North Korean hackers hacked personal data of 997 defectors

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Fazeel Ashraf
IT graduate from Pakistan’s National University of Science and Technology with a passion for writing. When not reading or writing, I can be found listening to rock and metal or playing some classic jams on my electric guitar. I’m also a big fan of horror movies.

Hackers from North Korea have stolen data from roughly 997 defectors. The defectors belonged to North Korea as well. It seems the hackers wanted to confirm whether the people were dead or missing.

The personal data that was stolen included names, addresses, and birth dates of the defectors. South Korea’s Unification Ministry confirmed these hacks.

Worst of all, the hacks could have been easily avoided.

The data leak came after an employee working at the Hana Foundation unknowingly opened an email containing malware. This foundation works to help defectors leave the country, and assists North Korean citizens in settling up new lives abroad.

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The malware is what caused the defectors’ data to be leaked. Their data is supposed to be encrypted and kept offline – that is, the data has to be kept off the Internet. But according to the organization’s officials, the employee did not follow protocol.

It is important to note that the hackers have not been identified, but it’s alleged that they are North Korean.

Prominent human rights activist and defector Kang Chol-hwan confirmed his suspicions to the Wall Street Journal that North Korea wants information on whether these citizens are still alive.

This hack is extremely worrying for North Koreans who want to flee the country because of its authoritarian regime and inhumane laws. North Korea is a dictatorship that is responsible for multiple human right violations.

The dictatorship has been frequently scrutinized for its treatment of defectors. For example, North Korea punishes the families of defectors to ensure that no one else follows in their footsteps.

Threats and violence are often used by the North Korean regime to keep its citizens in line and to prevent further departures. Luckily, this hack only affects a small percentage of defectors that have fled the country since the peace treaty that ended the Korean War.

It remains unclear if the hacks targeted recent defectors or chose names at random. Despite the small percentage of victims, the hack could be devastating to those left behind.

It will leave many defectors and their families’ lives at risk. North Korea doesn’t have an ounce of remorse for defectors or enemies of the state. Kim Jong Un, the “Supreme Leader” of North Korea, allegedly killed his own brother over a minor dispute.

This hack shows how vital it is for employees of NGOs and other non-tech organizations to have proper IT skills and security knowledge. Hackers often targeting individuals of high interest and it is extremely important to keep citizens’ personal information secure.

It is the job of every country’s government to safeguard their citizens’ personal information as a basic human right. Currently, governments have become less forgiving and more suspicious of their citizens.

This is not the right approach for a democratic society. Taking away people’s freedom of speech and the right to leave the country will only lead to more angst and criticism of authority. It may lead to protests and violence.

So to prevent a dark dystopian future, governments must come together to keep their citizens personal information as private and secure as possible.

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