Personal data of nearly 1,000 North Korean defectors compromised

A data leak in the IT systems of a South Korean resettlement centre has led to the personal data of around 1,000 North Korean defectors being compromised, the BBC news website reports.

The Ministry of Unification – an executive department of the South Korean government aimed at promoting Korean reunification – said that one of its computers had been “infected with a malicious code”.

While those responsible for the cyber-attack have not yet been identified, their actions have prompted what is believed to be the first major data leak to hit defectors from the totalitarian state of North Korea.

Around 32,000 defectors are homed at the North Gyeongsang resettlement centre, which along with 25 similar centres run by the Ministry, exists to help residents acclimatise to living in South Korea.

Approximately 997 defectors from the north of the Korean peninsula have now been told that their names, dates of birth and addresses have been compromised, although the extent of the damage is yet to play out. Specialist commentators fear that the lives of defectors’ families still living in the north may be in danger.

Not all the defectors’ identities are known to the North Korean government, some of whom may simply be registered as missing or dead.

What is certain is that current defectors in South Korea will take no comfort from the recent news, and may feel it necessary to change their own private details – such as names, addresses and contact information – as a result.

As the Ministry of Unification continues its investigations in partnership with police forces, a spokesperson for the government institution has asserted the Ministry’s determination to “prevent such as incident from happening again.”

The attack was first detected through the uncovering of malicious software operating on a personal computer at a Hana (resettlement centre) in North Gyeongsang province. While North Korean cyber-crime expert Simon Choi told the BBC that he feels the province’s Hanna has been attacked before, the Ministry maintains that other computers in other centres throughout South Korea have not been tampered with.

“[There is a North Korean hacking] group [that] mainly targets [the] North Korean defector community… we are aware that [this group] tried to hack a Hana centre last year,” Choi told the BBC.

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