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Cyberattack compromises identities of nearly 1,000 North Korean defectors

Authorities still are not sure who was behind the attack

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Hackers have stolen the personal data of 997 North Korean defectors, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry. This is the largest theft of personal data from North Korean defectors in history, officials said.

What happened?

A Hana Center relocation facility in South Korea's North Gyeongsang province reported that one of its computers was hacked last month. This particular computer reportedly had personal information for 997 people who had defected from North Korea, including their names, birth dates, and addresses.

South Korea's Unification Ministry reported a malignant code had been discovered on a Hana Center computer on Dec. 19. Further investigation revealed that a file containing personal data of defectors had been accessed by someone who was not an employee. No other computers have been discovered to be compromised.

In many cases, the BBC noted, the North Korean government may assume that defectors are simply missing or dead. If the North Korean government finds out that these defectors are not only alive but have crossed into South Korea, that could endanger family members still living in the north. It could also put the defectors themselves in danger from North Korean reprisals.

In total, about 30,000 people have defected from North Korea and escaped to live in South Korea. There are 25 similar relocation centers scattered across South Korea, helping defectors who manage to successfully escape from North Korea to establish themselves and start new lives.

What else?

So far, there have been no reports of this data being used maliciously. South Korean police are investigating the incident, but have not said who they believe is behind the attack. The South Korean government has not accused North Korea of being behind the attack.

The South Korean unification ministry said that it planned to "do its best to prevent such an incident from happening again."

One last thing…
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