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Defense chief vows to reform scandal-ridden cyber command


By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Nov. 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Defense Minister said Friday he will reform the Cyber Warfare Command to better conduct its core mission of countering North Korea's hacking attempts, amid widening investigations into the secretive unit's alleged online smear campaign.

Kim Kawn-jin made the remark during the parliamentary audit as the cyber command, which was created in 2010 to fend off online security threats, was embroiled in a snowballing scandal in regard to the last year's presidential election.

Four cyber warfare officials are currently under investigation over posting political messages against then opposition camp candidate Moon Jae-in ahead of the last December's election.

Opposition lawmakers have raised further speculation that the command has jointly conducted a smear campaign with the state spy agency, which has also come under the prosecution's investigation for illegal electioneering.

Kim said he has ordered a thorough investigation into the allegations, vowing to carry out reforms to ensure that the cyber command will concentrate on its original mission.

"The defense ministry has been working to prepare the current and future cyber warfare," Kim said during an audit by the defense parliamentary committee. "The Cyber Warfare Command has faithfully conducted its missions. As its psychological warfare team has become a political hot-button issue, I will make efforts to reform the unit."

Acknowledging the fact the four officials posted political messages, Kim said military investigators are currently looking into whether they were acting on their own accord or under orders from upper military rank.

He expressed concern over the cyber command being at the center of political wrangling, noting that revealing too much information would benefit North Korea, which is seeking more information over the unit that has been largely kept in the dark. The reclusive communist state is known to have trained professional hackers to conduct cyber attacks.

"The military has stayed politically neutral and it will continue to do so," Kim said, adding he will explain more about the outcome of the investigations when they are completed.

Baek Nak-jong, chief of the military investigation team, said a digital forensic team has been tracing Internet Protocols of 18 other officials, whom opposition lawmakers claimed were also involved in the smear campaign.

The cyber command's scandal comes at a time when the ruling and opposition parties have been locked in a heated political showdown for months over similar allegations involving the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

Prosecutors have said NIS agents posted thousands of anonymous Internet messages during the presidential campaign period supporting Park or personally attacking the opposition candidate.

The former NIS chief, who is currently under arrest, is undergoing trials on charges of illegal electioneering.

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