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North Korea Suspected of Hacking U.S.-South Korean War Plans

10 Oct 2017 11:57 am
By Kwanwoo Jun 

SEOUL--Suspected North Korean hackers stole sensitive military secrets, including joint U.S.-South Korean plans detailing how to eliminate the Pyongyang leadership, during an attack on Seoul's defense data system last year, a South Korean lawmaker said.

Rhee Cheol-hee, a member of the ruling Democratic Party, said in an interview with local media published on Tuesday that the hackers had broken into South Korea's defense data center in September last year and snatched a trove of classified military documents.

The stolen documents included a blueprint known as Operations Plan 5015, which the U.S. and South Korea drew up in 2015 in case of war with North Korea, and detailed joint military procedures for a decapitation strike against North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and other top leaders, Mr. Rhee said in the interview. A decapitation strike is a targeted attack to eliminate the North Korean leadership and senior command. His aides confirmed the comments, made to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

Mr. Rhee, a key member of the South Korean Parliament's National Defense Committee, said the findings were confirmed belatedly by the Defense Ministry. The committee oversees the ministry, and Mr. Rhee represents the ruling party on the panel.

Mr. Rhee wasn't available for further comment Tuesday. The South Korean Defense Ministry declined to comment. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul said it was aware of the development and declined to comment further.

North Korea has denied involvement in previous hacking attacks on South Korea.

In March, Pyongyang reacted angrily to the U.S.-South Korean plans for a decapitation strike, with the general staff of its army issuing a rare statement warning it is ready to "mercilessly smash the enemy's moves" with its own special operation and preemptive strike.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said in May that it suspected North Korea had hacked into the South's military network but didn't make public a detailed damage report or disclose what data had been stolen.

The hackers stole 235 gigabytes of data, 22% of which had been identified, according to Mr. Rhee, who said he had been briefed by Defense Ministry officials. The documents covered classified wartime operational plans, military facilities and power plants in South Korea, he said.

The development comes amid heightened tensions over Pyongyang's quest for a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting U.S. cities. Over the weekend, President Donald Trump hinted at military action against North Korea, tweeting that "only one thing will work" to rein in the regime's weapons program.

Meanwhile, North Korea is reportedly preparing to test another missile capable of reaching the U.S. West Coast.

"They are preparing to test a longer-range rocket," Anton Morozov, a Russian lawmaker who sits on a lower-house international-affairs committee, said last week following an official trip to Pyongyang, according to the RIA-Novosti news agency. "They even showed us mathematical calculations which they believe show they will be able reach the U.S. West Coast."

On Tuesday, citing Mr. Morozov, Russia's Interfax news agency reported that North Korea's leadership had told Russian lawmakers that it possesses a ballistic missile with a range of about 1,860 miles that would be able to reach U.S. territory after modernization. The U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, home to American air and naval bases, is about 2,100 miles from Pyongyang.

Last month, North Korea detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear weapon, while in July it tested its first two intercontinental ballistic missiles.

North Korea is known to have cyberwarfare and cybercrime capability. It has been blamed for cyberattacks including 2014's Sony Pictures Entertainment hack, last year's cyberheist at Bangladesh's central bank and this summer's WannaCry global ransomware attack.

The country's cyberattack operation comprises six groups and 1,300 hackers, with a dozen supporting organizations of 5,000 more hackers, according to South Korean government officials.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 10, 2017 07:57 ET (11:57 GMT)

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