By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Feb. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will push to develop sophisticated cyberwarfare tools that could wreak havoc on North Korea's nuclear facilities as part of its plans to beef up offensive capabilities, the defense ministry said Wednesday.
The ministry reported a long-term plan for cyberpolicy to the parliamentary defense committee, at a time when calls have risen to reform the Cyber Warfare Command, which has been dogged by allegations of an online smear campaign in the 2012 presidential election.
The military vowed to toughen regulations on the cyberwarfare officials' use of social networking sites to prevent them from posting political writings while conducting psychological warfare missions against North Korea's propaganda activities.
A strategic plan for the second phase calls for developing cybertools for offense like Stuxnet, a computer virus that damaged Iran's uranium enrichment facility, to cripple North Korea's missile and atomic facilities.
The reform plan also calls for beefing up its psychological warfare capability to paralyze the origin of a cyberattack.
"Once the second phase plan is established, the cyber command will carry out comprehensive cyberwarfare missions," a senior ministry official said, asking for anonymity.
The cyber command was created in 2010 under the defense ministry to guard off rising cyberthreat posed by North Korea, which is believed to have masterminded massive attacks on networks of South Korea in recent years.
The command, however, has put a much greater focus on psychological warfare activities against Pyongyang's propaganda and slandering in cyberspace, which questioned the legitimacy of the secretive unit.
The ministry plans to set up the "Cyber Defense Department" under the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in May, which would serve as the control tower of cyberwarfare missions.
"The new department will oversee the defensive cyberwarfare missions when major networks are hit by hacking attacks, while carrying out orders of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs," the ministry official said.
To dispel lingering suspicions over the command's psychological warfare mission, the ministry plans to create a regular monitoring system to prevent cyber-related officials from engaging in missions related to political activities.
By law, soldiers and military personnel are obligated to maintain political neutrality.
The ministry also said it will operate a committee to review cyberwarfare operations in advance and establish a whistleblower program to allow soldiers to report politically biased missions.
More than a dozen members of the command's psychological warfare unit have been under investigation by military prosecutors for allegedly posting politically charged messages online against the opposition camp and its candidate ahead of the 2012 vote.
Opposition lawmakers have accused the military of trying to cover up more pervasive election meddling by purposely carrying out a shoddy investigation into the online smear campaign by the Cyber Warfare Command, calling for a special prosecutor to launch an independent probe.
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