SEOUL — North Korea hacked into more than 140,000 computers at 160 South Korean firms and government agencies, planting malicious code under a long-term plan laying groundwork for a massive cyber attack against its rival, police in the South said Monday.
South Korea has been on heightened alert against cyber attacks by the North after Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February that led to new United Nations sanctions.
The North has always denied wrongdoing.
The hacking began in 2014 and was detected in February, after North Korea managed to steal information from two conglomerates, including defense-related material, South Korea’s police cyber investigation unit said.
“There is a high possibility that the North aimed to cause confusion on a national scale by launching a simultaneous attack after securing many targets of cyber terror, or intended to continuously steal industrial and military secrets,” it said.
The hackers took no action after gaining control of servers and computers at some corporate groups and waited, as they continued to hack into more targets in what police said was likely an effort to build the scale of a planned attack.
Reclusive North Korea and the rich, democratic South still are technically at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. The North regularly threatens to destroy the South and its main ally, the United States.
In March, the South’s spy agency said it had intercepted an attempt to hack into South Korean computer networks to attack the transport system’s control network, blaming the North for the attempt.
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