Hackers stole the information of close to 1,000 North Korean settlers who fled to South Korea, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
Information about the breach was released by Seoul officials on Friday (Dec. 28), and the attack was perpetrated on a government-funded resettlement agency. The hackers stole addresses, names and birth information.
Many North Koreans — about 32,000 — are estimated to have fled to the country since the Korean War in the ‘50s. That number has shrunk in recent years, especially since North Korea treats departure to the south as treason.
When citizens of the north are caught trying to escape, they’re often sentenced to years of hard labor or financial penalties. North Korean authorities are known to seize homes of relatives after someone tries to leave without permission.
Kang Chol-hwan, a native North Korean who leads a human-rights organization focused on the North, said the work is probably from North Korean security officials.
“Who would need such information?” Kang said. “Authorities trying to confirm whether people reported missing or dead are really in fact missing or dead.”
The attack happened through malware. Ministry officials in the south said someone from The Hana Foundation, which has about 25 offices, didn’t follow set rules to protect the settlers. The information is supposed to be kept on computers that aren’t connected to the internet.
McAfee researchers said North Korea tries to trick people into downloading malicious software by sending links in emails and hiding malware in apps on the Google Play store.
McAfee said the culprits “are familiar with South Korea and appear to want to spy on North Korean defectors, and on groups and individuals who help defectors.”