Seoul needs to counter N. Korea's cyber espionage capabilities: defense chief

SEOUL, June 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense chief on Thursday said there is an urgent need to counter North Korea's cyber espionage capabilities that pose national security threats for the country.

In a conference held in Seoul to touch on ways to protect sensitive military information, Kim Kwan-jin pointed out that Pyongyang operates a dedicated cyber team under the Reconnaissance General Bureau of the Korean People's Army. He said that this organization is made up of roughly 3,000 highly trained personnel.

"Cyber warfare is often referred to as the fifth battlefield and preparing to counter terrorism in this area is vital," the policymaker said.

He claimed that the so-called distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attack that occurred in 2009, the hacking of the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation in the following year and the cyber terrorism that paralyzed financial firms earlier this year, highlight the seriousness of the on-line threat.

Seoul has argued that the attacks were carried out by the North, although the communist country has denied any participation in the incidents.

The official said that while South Korea's military operates a separate cyber network that is not linked to the World Wide Web, making it less vulnerable for hacking, there is a need to enhance its control over mobile devices.

He said that to enhance mobile device security, Seoul is in the process of creating a new mobile defense management (MDM) system that can curtail access of confidential data from being checked by cell phones and tablet PCs.

At present the defense ministry bars employees from using various services on locally made mobile devices.

Related to the alarm bells raised, Gen. Jang Kyung-wook, the head of the Defense Security Command, predicted that no country can be safe from on-line attacks and speculated that if World War Three broke out it would involve cyber battles.

He said that the North has one of the best trained hackers in the world and it has used these assets to conduct attacks that have become more high-tech with the passage of time.

Without giving details, the two-star general said Pyongyang has engaged in cyber psychological warfare to fuel internal discord in the South and tried to steal military secrets or disrupt the country's military data systems.

Also weighing in on the matter, private experts such as Lee Ki-joo, the president of the Korea Internet Security Agency, said Seoul needs to consider raising at least 5,000 "white hackers" to protect the country from outside cyber attacks that can effectively paralyze the country.

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