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Hacktivists Target Websites in North, South Korea

June 25, 2013

Several South Korean and North Korean government websites came under attack Tuesday, apparently by international hacking activists, on the sensitive anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

Seoul's science ministry said unidentified hackers attacked several government websites, including that of the presidential Blue House, as well as some news media servers. It issued a cyber attack alert, warning officials and citizens to take extra computer security measures.

In North Korea, several government-run websites also temporarily went down, including the Korean Central News Agency and the Rodung Sinmun newspaper. Pyongyang has not yet commented on the outages.

Members of the international hacking activist group Anonymous had promised to use the 63rd anniversary of the start of the Korean War to carry out cyber attacks against North Korea.

However, the hackers unexpectedly first targeted South Korean websites, in some cases posting messages in support of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

James Pearson with NKNews.org, a website that monitors North Korea, tells VOA that Anonymous is famous for such unpredictable behavior.

"Generally speaking it would be out of character for Anonymous to have any sort of allegiance to any government, given they practice and preach a form of anarchy," he said.

Pearson says Tuesday's attacks could represent divided loyalties within the loosely associated hacking collective. Or, he says the South Korean websites may have been hacked to justify similar attacks on the North.

"The most popular theory here at NKNews at the minute is that what they've done is the same people have deliberately attacked South Korean websites first in order to launch what would appear to be a counterattack on North Korean websites," said Pearson.

In any case, he says the attacks were likely carried out by what he referred to as "bedroom hackers" and lack the complexity of a coordinated cyber attack, such as the one targeting South Korea earlier this year.

Seoul blamed North Korea's military spy agency for a March cyber attack that affected 48,000 computers and servers, stalling operations at three top South Korean broadcasters and hampering financial services at banks for several days.

The South's Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA) found the attack bore similarities to previous hacking attempts by Pyongyang's military-run Reconnaissance General Bureau.

North Korea is believed to have an elite cyber warfare unit that was suspected of being behind computer attacks on South Korean government agencies and financial institutions in 2009 and 2011.

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