A trove of classified military documents, including the joint South Korea-US wartime operational plans for conflict with Pyongyang, were stolen by North Korean hackers, a lawmaker in Seoul said.
Lee Cheol-hee, a member of the ruling Democratic party, on Tuesday said hackers had broken into a defence data centre in September last year. He said stolen documents included Operational Plan 5015 — the most recent allied blueprint for war with North Korea.
The plans reportedly includes detailed procedures for a decapitation strike against the North Korean regime — a proposal that has infuriated Kim Jong Un, the country’s supreme leader.
The development comes amid growing anxiety in South Korea that US President Donald Trump intends to use military action to curb North Korea’s rapidly developing nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes.
Citing South Korean defence officials, Mr Lee said 235 gigabytes of data had been stolen, although 80 per cent of the documents had yet to be identified. Among the files identified were contingency plans for Seoul’s special forces as well as information on key military facilities and power plants, the lawmaker said.
The defence ministry in Seoul declined to comment on the reports.
North Korea is known to have advanced cyber warfare capabilities and is believed to be behind attacks on governments, financial institutions and even film studios worldwide.
Most recently, security group FireEye said hackers from Pyongyang were attempting to steal bitcoin from South Korean exchanges as a means of avoiding increasingly punitive international sanctions.
In May South Korea’s defence ministry said its reclusive northern neighbour had penetrated Seoul’s military online network, although it did not reveal what was stolen at the time, state-run Yonhap news agency reported.
“This is a total failure of management and monitoring [of classified information],” said Shin Jong-woo, a researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum.
“We have organisations in charge of supervising these cyber security issues . . . but they must have neglected to follow procedures and regulations, and they have failed to maintain military discipline.”
“This is a really serious matter,” said Kim Tae-woo, former president of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a South Korean think-tank. “Given the military is playing down this announcement, I am concerned at the extent of information that has been stolen by North Korea.
“Part of my mind hopes the South Korean military intentionally leaked the classified documents to the North with the intention of having a second strategy,” he added.
In recent months the possibility of a strike against North Korea’s leader has gained momentum in some circles.
In January Seoul announced the formation of a special military unit to eliminate Mr Kim in the event of war. A few months later, the US Central Intelligence Agency set up a Korea Mission Centre.
The prospect has reportedly infuriated the North Korean leader, who has responded by changing his daily routine as well as the cars he travels in, according to South Korean lawmakers briefed by the nation’s intelligence agency.
On Saturday, Mr Kim defended his nation’s nuclear weapons programme, saying it was a “powerful deterrent firmly safeguarding the peace and security in the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia”.
The comments were published by the state news agency just hours after Mr Trump again appeared to threaten North Korea.
“Only one thing will work,” the former television personality tweeted after decrying attempts by previous US presidents to engage diplomatically with Pyongyang.
Source: Financial Times