Senior South Korean officials’ cell phones hacked by North: report

NIS South KoreaDozens of cell phones belonging to senior government officials in South Korea were compromised by North Korean hackers who systematically targeted them with texts containing malicious codes, according to reports. The National Intelligence Service (NIS), South Korea’s primary intelligence agency, said the cell phone penetrations were part of a concerted campaign by North Korea to target smart phones belonging to South Korean senior government officials. Once they managed to compromise a cell phone, the hackers were able to access the call history stored on the device, the content of text messages exchanged with other users and, in some cases, the content of telephone calls placed on the compromised device. Moreover, according to the NIS, the hackers were able to access the contact lists stored on compromised cell phones, which means that more attacks may be taking place against cell phones belonging to South Korean government officials.

The breach was considered critical enough for the NIS to host an emergency executive meeting with the security heads of 14 government ministries on Tuesday, in order to update them on the situation and to discuss ways of responding to the crisis. According to Korean media, the emergency meeting took place on Tuesday and lasted for over three hours. During the meeting the NIS told ministry representatives that the North Korean operation was launched in late February and was ongoing as of early this week. It specifically targeted government officials and appeared to concentrate on their cell phones, instead of their office phones –probably because the latter are known to be equipped with advanced anti-hacking features. The government employees’ cell phones were reportedly attacked using text messages and emails containing links to web sites that downloaded malicious codes on the users’ phones.

The NIS did not specify the precise purpose of the hacking operation, nor did it explain whether the attacks were informed by an overarching strategic goal. The officials targeted work for a variety of government ministries, but there is no clarification as to whether any operational or administrative links between them exist. The NIS did say, however, that approximately a fifth of all attacks against cell phones were successful in compromising the targeted devices.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 March 2016 | Permalink

Australian civil servant accused of spying denied access to evidence

Embassy of South Korea in AustraliaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Australia’s Federal Court has rejected a bid by a senior civil servant to view the evidence the government is using to accuse him of espionage. Until September of 2011, Dr. Yeon Kim was a career civil servant with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES). His specialization in international trade policy required a security clearance, which Kim had possessed since 2001. But in 2011, he was sacked and had his security clearance revoked for allegedly holding clandestine meetings with officers of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). The Australian government accuses Kim of meeting repeatedly with Hoo-Young Park, an employee of the South Korean embassy in Canberra, who had been declared to the Australian government as an NIS liaison officer. According to court documents, three other NIS officers serving under diplomatic cover in Australia, Bum-Yeon Lee, Sa-Yong Hong, and a third man named Kim, were involved in collecting intelligence on Australian trade secrets. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which detained Kim, said that he willingly participated in the “foreign interference” operation by the NIS. For several months now, Kim has been contesting the Australian government’s legal case against him in the Federal Court. His legal team recently requested that the Court annul two certificates issued by the Australian attorney general, designed to bar the defense from accessing evidence against Kim. The certificates were originally submitted by government prosecutors during an earlier Administrative Appeals Tribunal hearing. But the Court declined the request, saying the defense waited too long to challenge the certificates. In issuing the ruling, Justice Lindsay Foster said Kim’s legal team should have requested that the certificates be declined during the original hearing. The judge censured Kim’s defense lawyers for “stand[ing] by and watch[ing] while the certificates were [originally] deployed”, adding that it would undermine the integrity of the legal process to allow the certificates to be challenged at this late stage. Read more of this post

Revealed: South Korean intel officers caught spying on Australia

Embassy of South Korea in AustraliaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A court in Australia has released information about “inappropriate activities” allegedly conducted by South Korean intelligence officers targeting trade negotiations between Seoul and Canberra. The 2011 case involved operatives of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), who purportedly tried “to obtain sensitive information” from Australian civil servants. The documents, released Tuesday by Australia’s Federal Court, reveal that an Australian government official, Dr. Yeon Kim, was sacked and had his security clearance revoked, for allegedly holding clandestine meetings with South Korean NIS officers. The Australian government accused Kim, who worked for the Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, of meeting repeatedly with Hoo-Young Park, an employee of the South Korean embassy in Canberra, who had been declared to the Australian government as an NIS liaison officer. According to the court documents, three other NIS officers serving under diplomatic cover in Australia, Bum-Yeon Lee, Sa-Yong Hong, and a man named Kim, were involved in collecting intelligence on Australian trade secrets. According to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which detained Kim, he willingly participated in the “foreign interference” operation by the NIS. It is worth noting, however, that there were no expulsions of South Korean intelligence officers or diplomats following Kim’s detention. On the contrary, ASIO appears to have gone to great lengths to prevent disclosure of the spy affair and even protect the identities of the NIS officers involved. In a move interpreted by some as an attempt by Canberra to safeguard its good relations with Seoul, the Australian government warned in a memo that any disclosure of the South Korean intelligence operation would have “a detrimental impact” on bilateral relations between the two nations. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #833

Dawn MeyerriecksBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Report states Switzerland increasingly targeted by spies. Cyber attacks and abductions of Swiss abroad were two of the main security challenges faced by Switzerland last year, according to report released on Tuesday by the alpine country’s Federal Intelligence Service (FIS). “Switzerland continues to be no priority for jihadist motivated attacks,” the report said. However, presenting the report, FIS head Markus Seiler said an Islamist attack on Swiss soil could not be ruled out. And Swiss nationals abroad were “more threatened than in the past by politically and terrorist motivated abductions”, he said.
►►Prosecutors raid South Korean spy agency. State prosecutors raided the headquarters of the National Intelligence Service of South Korea on Tuesday to investigate accusations that the spy agency used its agents and hired bloggers to influence the presidential election in December. The raid, which started in the morning and continued into the evening, was highly unusual, dealing a blow to the reputation of the spy agency. Such a raid would have been unthinkable decades ago when the agency had served as the main tool of political control for South Korea’s military dictators.
►►Former AOL VP to lead CIA tech and science division. The CIA has appointed Dawn Meyerriecks, former AOL Senior Vice President for Product Technology, as its new Chief of Science and Technology. According to Wired, Meyerriecks is the first internet executive to ever take a top-tiered position in the CIA. Some of the things Meyerriecks has done in the past include working as a Jet Propulsion Lab engineer for NASA, working as a Assistant Director of National Intelligence for Acquisitions and Technology, working as a Chief Technology Officer and Technical Director for the Joint Interoperabillity and Engineering Organization (JIEO), establishing an in-house app market for both spies and analysts, encouraging the US government to use open source software, and much more.

News you may have missed #726

Barbara Annette RobbinsBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Portrait of first female CIA officer to die in line of duty. In 1965, a 21-year-old American woman, Barbara Annette Robbins (photo), was among the victims of a car bombing at the US Embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam. Washington said she was a diplomat. But, at a ceremony last year, the CIA admitted she was an employee of the Agency. This makes her the first woman at the male-dominated CIA killed in the line of duty. She is also the youngest CIA employee ever killed. And she appears to be the first American woman to die in the Vietnam War. The Washington Post has an interesting article about her short life and career.
►►US Jewish leader says release of Israeli spy Pollard ‘inevitable’. The release of Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in a US prison for spying on the US for Israel, is “inevitable” and could take place shortly on “technical grounds”, according to Jack Rosen, a prominent Jewish leader and supporter of US President Barack Obama. A New York City real estate executive who hosted Obama at his Upper East Side home for a Democratic Party fundraiser last November, Rosen said that “there are some technical reasons, I’m told, why [Pollard] will be released. I think there’s an inevitability to that happening”.
►►Senior reshuffle at South Korean spy agency. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak reshuffled two top posts at South Korea’s main intelligence agency Monday in a shake-up that also affected five other vice-ministerial posts. Nam Joo-hong, a former well-known security scholar who has so far served as ambassador to Canada, was named the first deputy chief of the National Intelligence Service, while Cha Moon-hee, a veteran intelligence official, was tapped as the agency’s second deputy chief. The spy agency’s first and second deputy chiefs are in charge of its overseas and domestic operations, respectively.

Did Outside Spy Agencies Know About Kim Jong Il’s Death?

Kim Jong Il lies in state in PyongyangBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org |
According to KCNA, North Korea’s state news agency, Premier Kim Jong Il died at 8:30 am on Saturday, December 17. However, government media did not announce the startling news until early Monday morning, that is, nearly 50 hours after the “Dear Leader’s” sudden passing. Assuming that North Korean reports of the time and location of Kim’s death are truthful, the inevitable question for intelligence observers is: did anyone outside North Korea receive news of Kim Jong Il’s death during the 50 hours that preceded its public announcement? In times like this, most Westerners tend to look at the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, MI6, DGSE, or any of the other recognizable acronyms that dominate American and European news reports. The reality is, however, that despite their often-mythical status, Western intelligence agencies tend to be limited in their global reach, which is usually heavily concentrated on selected adversaries, like Russia, or China. These agencies therefore tend to rely on their regional allies to get timely and accurate information on smaller nations that are often difficult to penetrate. In the case of North Korea, Western spy agencies depend heavily on actionable intelligence collected by South Korean and Japanese spies. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #616

CSIS seal

CSIS seal

►►S. Koreans say several N. Korean assassination bids stopped. South Korea has arrested several North Korean agents for plotting to assassinate anti-Pyongyang activists, according to Won Sei-Hoon, head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, who spoke to the parliament’s intelligence committee. Earlier this month, Seoul prosecutors charged a North Korean agent with trying to murder Park Sang-Hak, an outspoken activist in Seoul, with a poison-tipped weapon.
►►MI5 inspectors’ website shut down after security blunder. A new website for the former High Court judges responsible for oversight of MI5, MI6 and wiretapping has been shut down after it emerged that anyone could edit any page of it. The security blunder forced the Intelligence Services Commissioner, Sir Mark Waller, and the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Paul Kennedy, to pull the plug on their new website.
►►Report urges Canadian spies to share more info with diplomats. Canada’s spy agency needs to share more information with the Department of Foreign Affairs so the department is better prepared for negative reactions to Canadian intelligence work overseas, according to a new report by Canada’s Security Intelligence Review Committee. The Committee, which reports to Parliament on the work of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, found the organization had “limited exchanges” with Canada’s diplomats on its operations.

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