Website of North Korea human rights group also hacked

The group said it was reasonable to assume that the attack came from an entity related to North Korea

The website of a U.S. group focused on human rights in North Korea was hacked at the same time as a cyberattack on South Korean targets on Wednesday.

Only the website was affected and 'Hitman 007-Kingdom of Morocco' was superimposed on a photo of a political prison camp in North Korea, usually posted on the website, said Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) in Washington, D.C.

Publications, biodata of the committee's board and staff, and other relevant information were also taken down from the website, and replaced with a "Hitman 007" poster, Scarlatoiu said via email on Wednesday.

South Korean TV and bank networks went down at 2 p.m. local time in what is described by the government as a cyberattack.

At least three broadcasters and two banks reported to the National Police Agency that their computer networks were entirely halted, Yonhap News Agency reported, quoting a police official. Part of the malicious code came from a Chinese IP address, Yonhap later reported, quoting a communications watchdog in the country.

HRNK said it has not identified the source of the attack on its website yet. "We have been able to restore our website, but are still working on changing the coding, and will be unable to post new content for a while," Scarlatoiu said. "We will also do our best to retrieve server logs and pinpoint the origin of the attack."

The attacks, however, occurred the day before the UN Human Rights Council votes on a resolution to establish a Commission of Inquiry on North Korean Human Rights, leading Scarlatoiu to conjecture that it would "not be unreasonable to assume that the entity that originated the attack could have been related to North Korea."

HRNK was the first organization to propose the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry in its 2006 report, called 'Failure to Protect,' he said.

The group has been targeted recently through several email attempts. "These were carefully crafted messages, drafted in fairly decent English, looking almost legit," Scarlatoiu said. "It was all about opening attachments, and fortunately we knew better than doing just that."

A researcher at security software firm ThreatTrack Security, however, cautioned about attributing any blame until the full facts emerge. "While it's tempting to attribute these attacks to the North given the current state of play in the region, many attacks are not so easy to pin down," said senior threat researcher Christopher Boyd in a statement.

Kaspersky Lab said in a blog post that it was likely that the attacks came from "script kiddies or hacktivists looking for quick fame." The attackers, going by the name "Whois Team" left a number of messages in defacements, announcing the "beginning of our movement," it said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
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