Cyber Security

North Korean cyber espionage targets South Korean semiconductor firms

5th March 2024
Paige West

Recent reports from South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) have revealed a concerning trend of cyber espionage, with North Korean hackers infiltrating South Korean semiconductor manufacturers.

The objective behind these cyber intrusions is believed to be Pyongyang's ambition to develop semiconductors for its weapons programmes.

The revelation follows a warning issued by President Yoon Suk Yeol last month, suggesting that North Korea may resort to provocations, including cyber attacks, to disrupt the upcoming elections. This is not the first instance of cyber aggression from the North, as an aide to President Yoon had their email compromised last year, highlighting the ongoing cyber threats posed by Pyongyang.

The NIS has expressed concerns over North Korea's potential efforts to manufacture its own semiconductors, a move compelled by the challenges in acquiring them due to international sanctions. The agency highlighted the strategic importance of semiconductor technology in North Korea's weapons development, noting its application in satellites and missiles.

According to the intelligence service, North Korean operatives successfully breached the servers of two chip equipment companies in December and February. They allegedly made off with product designs and photographs of facilities, though the names of the affected companies have not been disclosed. Furthermore, the agency cautioned other firms within the industry to bolster their cyber defences in anticipation of potential threats.

The technique purportedly employed by the hackers, known as "living off the land". It involves the use of malicious codes and leverages legitimate tools within servers, thereby evading detection by conventional security software.

These developments underscore the increasingly sophisticated nature of North Korea's cyber capabilities amidst stringent international sanctions. The global semiconductor industry, and particularly South Korean manufacturers, remain vigilant against the backdrop of escalating cyber espionage activities.

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