South Korean TV and banks paralysed in disk-wipe cyber-blitz

Too early to blame network meltdown on Norks


Banks and TV stations in South Korea have been hit by a debilitating attack on their computer networks.

Three financial institutions - Shinhan, Nonghyup and Jeju - and two insurance firms as well as broadcasters KBS, MBC and YTN have either been partially or completely crippled by malware, it appears, according to South Korean news agency Yonhapnew.

PCs on the networks of TV stations crashed and couldn't be restarted; some displayed an error message claiming that their boot records had been destroyed, as seen in news coverage here and here. Some reports suggest that images of skulls appeared on some computer screens. The attack started at 1400 local time today.

Telly programmes continue to be transmitted despite the problems. However internet banking and cash machines operated by Shinhan Bank are not functioning. South Korean ISP LG Uplus has also been hit by the assault. Government computer networks remain largely unaffected, according to an official from the National Computing and Information Agency (NCIA). However some important websites, including KCNA and Air Koryo, were rendered temporarily inaccessible.

The authorities are trying to identify the cause of the problem. Files named KBS.exe and MBC.exe, which began circulating last week, could be key components for distributing the disk-wiping malware that apparently brought down the networks. The situation remains confused but already thoughts are turning towards who could have launched the attack; North Korea is emerging as a prime suspect.

"We do not rule out the possibility of North Korea being involved, but it's premature to say so," South Korea's Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told the BBC.

Christopher Boyd, senior threat researcher at ThreatTrack Security, commented: “There have been numerous serious attacks on South Korean networks and systems over the last few years, from recent newspaper site defacements and the most recent network attacks to the so-called 'Ten Days of Rain' distributed denial-of-service [DDoS] attacks on multiple government sites and the United States Forces Korea in 2011.

"While it's tempting to attribute these attacks to the North given the current state of play in the region, many attacks are not so easy to pin down: the 'Ten Days of Rain' used compromised machines inside South Korea to launch the DDoS attacks.

"In 2009 the JoongAng Daily claimed that a South Korean man allegedly purchased infected games in North Korea, only to take them back home and infect other gamers - using them to DDoS the website of the Incheon International Airport. Recent reports that North Korea itself claims to have been knocked offline by hackers does nothing to clarify the issue, and in this 'tit-for-tat' environment we should be wary of attributing any blame until the full facts emerge.”

Some Koreans spread screen grabs of a social-networking website on which a group calling itself the "Whois Team" claimed responsibility for the outages; some captured the crew's boasts in a video uploaded to YouTube. However LG UPlus Corp, the ISP behind the social network, denied the existence of such pages on its website, Reuters reports.

The attack appears to be wide-ranging, coordinated and targeted at high-profile institutions in South Korea. The South Korean military cyberattack readiness level was raised from three to four on the five-tier system, The Guardian reports. Defence minister Kim Kwan-jin convened a meeting to discuss the attacks.

North Korea was blamed for two previous cyber-attacks against its southern neighbour, in 2009 and 2011, that targeted government agencies and banks. Last week North Korea's official news agency KCNA blamed the US and its allies for computer hacking attacks against its networks. Political tensions on the Korean peninsular have been running high for weeks since recent rocket and nuclear tests by the North Koreans. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021