North Korea is conducting online “psychological warfare” against South Korea, with teams of cyber warriors spreading unflattering rumours and malicious tales throughout the internet.
Pyongyang’s hackers have previously focused their efforts on gaining access to government websites, as well as home pages belonging to private corporations or infrastructure companies, the Korea Herald reported.
Now, however, the regime of Kim Jong-un appears to be attempting to manipulate public opinion in the year running up to South Korea’s presidential elections.
Pyongyang is bitterly opposed to the present government of Park Geun-hye and would prefer an administration in Seoul that would agree to talks with the North instead of stepping up international pressure against its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes through sanctions.
“North Korea’s organisations in the South, including the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, have been identified as operating an ‘online reply team’ that spreads malicious tales and groundless rumours on the Internet and social network services”, a government official told the newspaper.
The tactic is a cheap and effective way in spreading messages that cast North Korea in a positive light at the same time as painting its neighbour and rival as the villain and undermining the government in Seoul.
One rumour that appears to have emerged from the North was the suggestion – accepted in some quarters – that the 13 restaurant workers who defected in April had in fact been kidnapped by South Korea’s intelligence services.
The rumour was embellished when it was claimed that the 12 women and the male manager of the restaurant had gone on hunger strike in protest at their abduction by the South.
North Korea is believed to operate a 10,000-strong unit of full-time hackers and has, in the past, experienced successes against targets in the South. In March 2013, hackers brought three South Korean TV stations and a major bank to a standstill after infiltrating their websites.
In March, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service accused North Korea of hacking into the mobile phones of senior government officials and accessing sensitive data and texts.
Hackers have also targeted nuclear plants in the South, while in 2014 Pyongyang was blamed for an attack on Sony Pictures after it refused to withdraw “The Interview”, a film that poked fun at the North Korean leader.