McAfee: Hackers spent four years spying on South Korea

Operation Troy dates back to 2009 and used a botnet to steal military documents

9 Jul 2013

A mysterious group of computer hackers has spent four years spying on the South Korea military, according to McAfee, citing evidence uncovered from malicious software samples.

The findings were not confirmed by authorities in Seoul.

McAfee did not identify a sponsor for the attacks but said they were carried out by hackers known as the New Romanic Cyber Army Team. Seoul has blamed North Korea for some of the attacks although Pyongyang denies responsibility and says it too has been a victim.

Officials at the South Korean Embassy in Washington were not immediately available for comment. A Pentagon spokesman said he was unaware of McAfee's findings and declined comment.

Experts with Symantec, another security software maker, last month definitively linked the four-year string of attacks to a single group of hackers. The attacks hit government and corporate computers.

McAfee released a paper analysing the code of the software used by those hackers.

It said the hacking gang infected PCs with sophisticated software that automatically sought out documents of interest by scanning computers for military keywords in English and Korean.

Once the software identified documents of interest, it encrypted those files then delivered them to the hackers' servers, McAfee said.

The paper also described in detail how the attackers siphoned data from infected computers using a botnet.

McAfee named the attacks "Operation Troy", because the word Troy frequently appeared in the code of the malicious software. The New Romanic Cyber Army Team makes frequent use of Roman and classical terms in its code.

On 4 July 2009, it launched its first significant attack, unleashing malicious software that wiped data on PCs and also disrupted some government and business websites in South Korea and the US.

In March, the gang knocked tens of thousands of PCs offline at South Korean companies by destroying data on their hard drives. It was one of the most destructive attacks against private computer networks to date.

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