[THE INVESTOR] Korea and China are on the verge of cyberwar, as Chinese hackers who crashed the website of Lotte Duty Free are reportedly seeking to expand their attacks to more Korean public and private websites.
Around 30 Korean public and company websites have so far been hacked by Chinese hackers, according to local news reports. These included a recruiting site for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics and the 2017 WTF World Taekwondo Championships webpage, alongside the homepages of private firms such as English-language learning company Leaders Edu.
The most prominent attack was on retail giant Lotte’s duty-free shop website early this month. Its four homepages in Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese could not be accessed. The attacks inflicted about around 500 million won ($432,000) in losses and Lotte Mart in China has decided to close its website as of March 9.
“We decided to temporarily close the website out of fear of further attacks. What is worse, as the anti-Lotte sentiment in China appears to have become anti-Korean sentiment, more Korean companies may struggle,” said a Lotte Mart official said.
The hackers are attacking websites either by website defacement -- an attack on a website that changes the visual appearance of the site -- or a distributed denial of service attack, which involves an attempt to make an online service unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources. Both are intended to instill a sense of fear.
“If the hackers move to attack public infrastructures such as banks and airports beyond creating emotional shock, this may become a very serious situation and lead to cyberwar between the two nations,” said Lim Jong-in, a professor at the graduate school of information security at Korea University.
“If that escalates into cyberwar, Korea is still not capable of blocking the attack with its current capacity and personnel,” he added.
Currently, China has around 100,000 personnel for its cyber control tower, while South Korea has around 600.
The state-run Korea Internet & Security Agency recently posted an announcement on its website, encouraging the public to upgrade their web applications such as their homepage content management system and check websites’ weak spots using KISA’s tools.
“What we can do for now is monitor local websites and give technical support when attacks are found. Still, making a pre-emptive move for an attack is under the jurisdiction of political or investigative agencies,” said Jeon Kil-soo, chief of the Korea internet security center at KISA.
By Shin Ji-hye/The Korea Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org)