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North Korean hackers target nuclear research centre

The attack on a South Korean government-funded research institute has been described as “a massive security breach”

A North Korean hacking group has successfully hacked one of South Korea’s largest state-run think tanks, responsible for researching nuclear technology, it has emerged.

The breach, which happened on 14 May, affected the government-funded Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), according to South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-keung, as reported by Yonhap.

Ha, a representative from the People Power party, South Korea's main opposition party, stated that KAERI initially tried to cover up the breach by denying the attack took place, only for it to later admit that its network was breached. The think tank is reportedly still investigating the nature of the attack and whether any data was stolen.

The lawmaker cited analysis by cyber security firm IssueMakersLab, which found that the attack involved 13 IP addresses, some of which were traced to Kimsuky, a unit with North Korea’s military intelligence agency.

"If the country's nuclear power and other key technologies have been leaked, it could become a massive security breach following Pyongyang's hacking of Seoul military cyber command in 2016," said Ha.

Ha added that some of the IP addresses that breached the KAERI network used the email address of Moon Chung-in, a former advisor to President Moon Jae-in. The email account was reportedly hacked in 2018, but it wasn’t until 2020 that a local cyber security firm found that Kimsuky was behind this attack as well.

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In November last year, pharmaceutical companies researching treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 were actively being targeted by prominent state-backed hackers from North Korea and Russia. Microsoft stated that these groups were launching “unconscionable” cyber attacks against the companies.

The number of cyber attacks from North Korean sources is expected to increase this year, according to a report published in February. It detailed that the closure of North Korea’s border with China, along with severe typhoons and floods, to be key factors in the potential increase of cyber crime.

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