By Kim Tae-gyu
The dominance of the Windows operating system coupled with a lack of
interest in cyber security and state-of-the-art Internet infrastructure
has made Korea a haven for hackers.
Earlier this month hackers launched a powerful offensive on crucial
Internet servers, which help manage global computer traffic.
On Feb. 6, hackers flooded at least three of the 13 root domain name
system (DNS) servers, which connect domain names with Internet protocol
addresses to enable people to reach certain Web sites.
The attacks, dubbed distributed denial of service (DOS), caused a heavy
inflow of Internet traffic directed at root servers.
DOS attackers seemed to have tried to bring the Internet pipeline to its
knees by flooding it with useless traffic, shutting down all the
They failed to disrupt the resilient Internet, which is safeguarded
unless all 13 root servers and many more back-up servers are overwhelmed
for about a week at the same time.
However, the accident spurred concerns about the security of cyber space
across the world since it marked one of the most concerted attacks
against the Internet's core facilities since a similar assault in 2002.
In particular, the attack seems to have involved South Korea as overseas
media reported a majority of the rogue data originated from computers in
Citing data from the North American Network Operators' Group, the Korean
government confirmed 61 percent of the problematic data was traced to
Hackers and Zombie Computers
Yet, the Ministry of Information and Communication flatly rebuffs the
suspicion that Korea was the main culprit behind the cyber attacks.
``We learned a host server in Coburg, Germany ordered a flurry of Korean
computers to stage DOS assaults on the root servers,'' said Lee Doo-won,
a director at the ministry.
``In other words, Korean computers affected by viruses made raids into
the root servers as instructed by the German host server. Many of our
computers acted like zombies,'' Lee said.
A zombie computer refers to a computer infected with malicious code,
which allows a host computer to access to its system and manipulate its
As soon as an e-mail recipient opens a virus-embedded mail and executes
it, the computer becomes a zombie. Hackers sometimes capitalize on the
weakness of unpatched operating systems to create an army of zombie
Most owners of zombie computers are unaware that their system is being
used in this way.
Korea has long been touted as a hotbed for hacking activity because the
country has a wide-ranging interconnected network, a necessity for
creating zombie computers.
Roughly 14 million out of the nation's 15.5 million households are
hooked up to the always-on high-speed Internet to mark the world?s
highest broadband penetration rate.
``The envied broadband infrastructure was abused by hackers so the
United States regarded Korea as the major source of the DOS attacks,''
``Things have become aggravated because many Korean computer users did
not patch up their security holes, making them vulnerable to the secret
raids of zombie specialists,'' he said.
Indeed, the download rates for Windows operating system patches are much
lower in Korea than elsewhere in the world, according to Microsoft, the
maker of the Windows software.
Experts warn that the nation's ambitious scheme of upgrading its
infrastructure to a broadband convergence network (BcN), may end up
giving ammunition to hackers.
The government plans to increase the speed of the Internet to 100
megabits per second (Mbps) by 2010, about 50 times faster than the
The increase in speed means BcN subscribers can download a two-hour
high-definition movie file in one minute, compared to the one hour
To help encourage a smooth transition to BcN, the government looks to
spend 1.2 trillion won through 2010 and draw 800 billion won in
investment from the private sector.
The number of BcN subscribers, which topped the 5 million mark late last
year, is expected to surpass 8 million later this year, more than half
of the total Internet user base.
``The fast BcN network is a two-edged sword. It can be employed either
to make our daily life more convenient or to attack the root servers,''
an official at the state-backed Korea Information Security Agency said.
``We are concerned that the BcN network may give a machine gun to zombie
computer controllers instead of the traditional handguns,'' the official
He articulated that the best way to prevent the abuse of the ultra-fast
Internet network is to keep people alert on cyber security issues
through periodic patch upgrades.
Some observers point their fingers to the dominance of Microsoft Windows
operating system as part of the reason behind Korea's recent DOS
``In the distributed DOS attacks on root servers, all of the zombie
computers were based on a Windows operating system,'' a Seoul analyst
``Our over-reliance on Windows can attract hackers. We have to make
things tough for the unscrupulous troublemakers by reducing dependence
on the operating system,'' he said.
Almost 99 percent of domestic personal computers run a version of the
Windows operating system.
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