The U.S. government (Voice of America) reported today that the South Korean police arrested five local organized crime members and charged them with collaborating with North Korean hackers to break into gaming websites to steal (for later sale) personal information. The North Korean hackers were based in China, the origin of a recent attack that reportedly stole the personal information of “nearly everyone” in South Korea – 35 million out of a total population of 49 million.
The connection between South Korean criminal organizations and North Koreans is an interesting one. South Korean organized crime has long been decidedly nationalistic and right-wing, not the types of people normally associated with North-South cooperation, legal or otherwise. The news of a possible connection between the two, if true, would denote a generational and/or ideological change in South Korean criminal organizations – making them even more focused on income than ideology.
A link of this type, between what are, in essence, a criminal nation-state and at least one criminal organization, could represent an ominous new threat for South Korean police and related (e.g. defense, finance, intelligence) agencies. At the very least, I would be wary of storing any valuable data, whether personal, proprietary, or classified, in Korea-based data centers. North Korean hacking, discussed previously here (NK Hackers Take Down SK Bank, Cyberwar in Korea – Kim Jong-eun’s Key to the Throne?), is an existing and growing asymmetrical threat to the South and, as it develops and internationalizes further, perhaps with the help of organized crime, a growing threat to the U.S., Japan, and other countries. Definitely a situation worth continued monitoring.
UPDATE (14 August): The North issued a statement denying the allegations, calling them an “unacceptable provocation” designed to “sully North Korea’s image overseas.” Riiiiight, because prior to the hacking allegations, North Korea’s overseas image was so pure and untarnished.