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Philippine government starts tracking down North Korean cyber-hackers

Hackers target department of science website

Gulf News

Manila: The Philippine government is tracking down North Korean hackers who were identified to have attacked a government-run cyber-security agency, a senior official said, prompting observers to assess that computer systems nationwide are vulnerable to attacks.

“The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and its Advanced Science and Techonology Institute (ASTI) will launch an investigation on Monday following reports that North Korean hackers have launched cyber-attacks against DOST’s website,” said Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Assistant Secretary Allan Cabanlong.

The DOST and ASTI will jointly look if the so-called distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that shut down websites have entered its cyber-system, said Cabanlong.

“It’s like a teargas or smoke grenade. Once it’s in the website that is under attack — the website shuts off for a specific period, allowing the attacker to send malware to the website in order to control its system,” explained Cabanlong.

The investigation was launched after Quartz, a news site, cited a study that “some North Korean users were conducting research, or possibly even network reconnaissance, on a number of foreign laboratories and research centers” including India’s Space Research Organization and the Philippines’ DOST,” said Cabanlong.

On Saturday, DOST and ASI have not yet detected the North Korean attackers in the cyber system. “If ever there was, it was not yet reported to us,” said Cabanlong, adding that hackers often target websites of research and academic institutions that are focused on content more than on security features

The reported DOST hackers could be part of North Korea’s efforts to attack perceived enemies, said Cabanlong.

They could be sympathisers of North Korea which is being pressured by the international community to stop its nuclear missile tests, other observers said.

Last year, DICT directed all banks, government agencies, hospitals, institutions, schools, and telecommunication companies to hire network security administrators and put in place systems that would regularly monitor possible cyber-attacks and breaches.

Looking forward, Cabanlong said DICT will put up its National Cyber-intelligence Centre to expand its capability to protect all computer systems nationwide.

Right now, “DICT is working on band-aid solutions to cyber-attacks; it is limited to oversight function; and it cannot protect all computer systems in the country,” admitted Cabanlong, adding, “No single agency can do it alone. The private sector and multi-government agencies must work together on this campaign.”

The DICT has yet to compile a record of government agencies and private companies in the Philippines that are vulnerable to breaches, other critics said.

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