Report: North Korea Hacked South Korean Officials’ Smartphones

Kim Jong-un taking a call the old-fashioned way in December 2012.

KNS/AFP/Getty Images

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said Tuesday that North Korean hackers had compromised government officials’ smartphones, accessing texts, phone calls, and contacts. The agency says that at the end of February and beginning of March, North Korea used a phishing attack over text message to trick South Korean government employees into downloading a smartphone virus.

The New York Times reports that about 20 percent of government smartphones that recieved the text became infected with the virus, amounting to dozens of compromised phones. The attack may be related to new U.N. sanctions motivated by North Korea’s nuclear program, because South Korea recently imposed similar sanctions. Last week, North Korean news agency KCNA called the sanctions “a wanton infringement on [North Korea’s] sovereignty and grave challenge to it.”

The South Korean National Intelligence Service also said Tuesday that in early February, North Korea hacked a security software company that supported an online banking system with 20 million users. South Korean officials were able to block the attack quickly, and it didn’t cause significant outages. Similarly, Reuters reports that NIS identified a recent hack on South Korean railway workers’ email accounts as part of an attempt to damage national train-control systems.

NIS did not explain on Tuesday how it had identified North Korea as the culprit. South Korean officials seem either genuinely alarmed or hell-bent on blaming North Korea for the series of hacks. Overall, South Korean news agency Yonhap wrote, “North Korea—which has thousands of cyberwarfare personnel—has a track record of waging cyberattacks on South Korea and the United States in recent years, though it has flatly denied any involvement.”