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North Korea off hook for 4 July cyberattacks

Experts still baffled by 2009 DDoS

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North Korea appears finally to be off the hook for a large cyberattack against US and South Korean websites a year ago that severely annoyed its southern neighbour.

Almost four dozen US and South Korean sites were targeted by botnet traffic from 4 July 2009, including the Treasury Department, the Federal Trade Commission, the Secret Service and South Korea's defence and foreign ministries, which saw some hit with routine denial-of-service and others defaced.

Nobody had the foggiest idea who carried out the attacks but the rumour mill came up with the mischievous North Koreans as the most likely sponsors, partly because off the implied level of organisation that such a large-scale attack would require.

North Korea was never been formally blamed for the attacks and the impression of its involvement dates from statements made in the attack's aftermath by South Korean officials to parliamentary officials. Korean language used in some of the defacements hinted at the time at possible North Korean link.

According to an Associated Press article quoting unnamed sources inside the investigation, experts now consider this unlikely and rate South Korean provocateurs the more likely culprits, but even this is surmise. 

As many in the security industry have pointed out, such denial-of-service attacks are now part and parcel of life on the Internet and count as relatively crude measures of the damage that can be done by a group or state against another country or organisation.

“Poke at any of these international incidents, and what you find are kids playing politics,” said celebrity security blogger, Bruce Schneier in the aftermath of the attacks.

“Last Wednesday, South Korea's National Intelligence Service admitted that it didn't actually know that North Korea was behind the attacks: 'North Korea or North Korean sympathizers in the South' was what it said. Once again, it'll be kids playing politics,” said Schneier.

There is cyberwar and there is now also cyberwar hype. Separating the two is not easy.


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