S. Korea Warns Computer Users After Government Website Attacks

South Korea warned computer users to take precautions against a new computer virus one day after a series of online attempts to cripple government websites.

Computer users should start their machines in safe mode to protect against infection by so-called malware that could destroy data stored on hard disks and prevent installation of virus protection programs, the Korea Communications Commission said yesterday in a statement on its website.

The latest attempts to disrupt South Korea’s online systems target individual computer users, unlike the attacks against official websites in the previous two days, Lee Sang Kug, a deputy director at the commission, said by phone. Malware was found and removed from four sites, Lee said, warning that the bad code could be spread by accessing file-sharing networks.

The government on March 4 issued an alert against so-called distributed denial of service assaults that targeted about 40 websites including the presidential office and National Intelligence Service.

The attacks were similar to attempts made in July 2009 to cripple dozens of websites in South Korea and the U.S.

North Korea’s postal ministry was responsible for the 2009 attacks, the JoongAng Ilbo reported in October 2009, citing Won Sei Hoon, head of the National Intelligence Service.

“We haven’t found any evidence to show where these new attacks came from or their purpose,” said Hwang Mi Kyung, a spokeswoman at Seoul-based Ahnlab Inc., the nation’s largest maker of antivirus software. “There was no evidence to prove the 2009 attacks came from North Korea.”

No Serious Damage

The Communications Commission hasn’t received reports of serious damage caused by the latest malware distribution, Lee said, adding that no further attacks on government websites have been detected.

Police investigating the spread of the malware haven’t found its origin, and related agencies will continue to monitor closely how the malicious code spread, Yoo Jin Ho, a spokesman at Korea Internet Security Agency, said by phone today.

Computer users in South Korea can download a free program distributed by Ahnlab to diagnose and remove the latest malware.

The Defense Ministry and intelligence agency declined to comment on the attacks, or on a Yonhap News report that North Korea on March 4 disrupted distribution of Global Positioning System signals in a few regions of South Korea. Officials at the ministry and agency declined to be named citing department policy.

GPS Disruption

North Korea might have tested GPS jamming technology as a response to U.S.-South Korean military drills that began last week, Yonhap said, citing military and government officials it didn’t name. The communications commission said GPS signals were affected in some parts of Seoul and Incheon that day, in a statement on its website. The disruptions affected time signals and connections for some mobile phones.

“It’s possible for North Korea to disrupt GPS signals to show its capability,” said Kim Yong Hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University. “Any repeat of such electronic warfare could worsen relations.”

Relations remain chilled across the border following exchanges of artillery fire in November after North Korea shelled a South Korean island, killing four people. The Pyongyang regime threatened last week to take military action if the South continues propaganda encouraging revolt, and “all-out war” in response to any attack during the annual U.S.-South Korean military drills that began on Feb. 28.

North Korea on March 4 refused to allow the return of 27 of its citizens who drifted across the maritime border by boat last month, demanding that four who requested to stay in South Korea also be repatriated.

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