South Korea’s newspaper of record Dong-a Ilbo reported that China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) hacked the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs last January and leaked 4.5GB of emails. The hacking took place during former President Moon Jae-in’s presidency. South Korean authorities admitted that the attack came from China and said that the MSS also infiltrated the computer network at Korea’s Blue House presidential office.
The Dong-A Ilbo report quoted a South Korean government source saying that an investigation by Korea’s National Intelligence Service concluded that MSS was behind the attack. To pull off the hack, the MSS exploited vulnerabilities in spam-blocking equipment. This gives South Korea strong evidence that China was trying to steal confidential information regarding Korea’s government and presidential office.
Korea’s foreign ministry confirmed that emails were leaked but said they “did not contain any secrets” and were mostly personal spam. However, the Korean investigation found evidence that the MSS attempted to go further with its hacking, “trying to invade the [Korean] Wa Dae computer network to gain access to confidential documents from the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.” According to the article, the South Korean government has been aware of the hacking since January 2022. An ally notified South Korea through intelligence channels that there were signs of Chinese hackers breaching the foreign ministry, and the incoming Yoon administration immediately investigated.
Analysts suggest the vulnerability to cyber-attacks may have been a motivating factor behind President Yoon’s decision to move the Korean presidential residence from the historic Blue House to the Ministry of Defense Building.
Source: Radio Free Asia, November 10, 2023