An unknown hacker or cyber espionage group penetrated the database of a resettlement agency for North Korean defectors and stole personal information for 997 of its clients, according to a statement from the South Korean Unification Ministry on Friday.
An anonymous official from the Unification Ministry said they accomplished the heist using malware “planted through emails sent by an internal address” at the Hana Center in the South Korean city of Gumi. The official did not say if the North Korean government is suspected of carrying out the attack.
The hacking attack, which occurred sometime last month, appears to be the largest theft of information about defectors to date. The incident is ominous because North Korea is vicious toward defectors, denouncing them as traitors and criminals. The defectors live in constant fear of North Korean reprisals.
“Some of us North Korean defectors had to change resident registration number in 2012 after personal data went loose. It’s threatening to hear that our personal information is unsafe,” one defector told ABC News.
The director of the penetrated Hana Center said there are currently no reports of the stolen information being used to harass defectors. The Unification Ministry was, however, fairly confident a file containing personal information was stolen in the incident. The 997 people whose information was stolen have been notified about the theft.
An emergency probe of all 25 Hana facilities was conducted by the Unification Ministry to ensure none of them were breached. More stringent defenses against cyber attack have been announced, including a new network architecture that will isolate the computers that store personal information about defectors from the Internet.