Cyber Tensions Loom in South Korea

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Cyber security concerns resonate in South Korea, and with recent cases of web security breaches, some web users begin to look for solutions in foreign apps.

Earlier this week, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) reported to the National Assembly that North Korean malware infected over 20,000 South Korean smartphones between May 19 and Sept. 16.

In the report, NIS agents stated that the nefarious program was incorporated into a mobile game advertised on South Korean websites. The agency announced that efforts have been made to take down the game, allegedly created by North Korean hackers, and to block vulnerable hacking channels.

The report also noted that over 75,000 hacking attempts targeting government agencies and affiliates have been made since 2010.

South Korea has experienced other national-level hackings in the past including last year’s attacks on banks and media, which were also attributed to North Korea. These incidents disrupted work at banks and television broadcasting stations, and rendered people unable to operate ATMs.

This latest external threat comes at a particularly adverse time, with President Geun-hye Park’s crackdown on free speech.

Nearly six weeks ago, President Park said online diatribes and false rumors about her have “gone too far and [have] divided society.” Pursuantly, federal efforts have been made to sift through online information to remove negative campaigns.

“It is no different from eavesdropping,” said Jinu Jung, a politician of South Korea’s opposition party, to FOX news earlier this month regarding the crackdown.

According to Jung, messages and phone numbers of his several thousand contacts on Kakao Talk were collected between May and mid-June.

In response to the issue, Sirgoo Lee, co-CEO of Daum Kakao said, “[Kakao Talk is] subject to South Korean law. When there is a fair execution of law, we cooperate with prosecutors.”

Recent news suggest that South Koreans are opening up to foreign tech channels for their services in search of cyber asylum.

Telegram, a German-based messaging app with a strong commitment to privacy, released an official Korean app on Oct. 7. Since then, the app has found remarkable reception with over 1.5 million registered Korean users, many of them former users of Kakao. This user base hardly buffers Kakao Talk’s 35 million, but Telegram’s South Korean user base only continues to grow.

With the possibility of privacy-infringement on other major web-based services, foreign platforms may continue to find leverage in South Korean tech outlets unless cyber security policies are scrutinized on both local and federal fronts.

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