Hack­ers use N. Korean tweets to call for up­ris­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY CHICO HAR­LAN har­lanc@wash­post.com

bei­jing — Ap­par­ently breached by hack­ers, North Korea’s of­fi­cial Twit­ter ac­count on Satur­day de­scribed leader Kim Jong Il and heir ap­par­ent Kim Jong Eun as sworn en­e­mies and called for an up­ris­ing to re­move them from power.

By the time the mi­cro-blog­ging mis­chief was over, the North Korean tweets had ranted to its 10,000plus Twit­ter fol­low­ers about prof­li­gate nu­clear weapons spend­ing and lav­ish Kim Jong Il drink­ing par­ties — hosted “while 3 mil­lion peo­ple are starv­ing and freez­ing to death.” Avideo also had been posted on North Korea’s of­fi­cial YouTube chan­nel that showed a car­i­ca­ture of Kim Jong Eun driv­ing in a lux­ury sports car, run­ning over women and chil­dren on the side of the road.

Be­cause North Korea per­mits In­ter­net ac­cess only to its most priv­i­leged cit­i­zens, the cy­ber at­tack caused min­i­mal, if any, dam­age to the pro­pa­ganda-built per­son­al­ity cult of the Dear Leader, whom Py­ongyang, on un-hacked days, de­scribes as a “a gen­eral sent from heaven.” But for those who op­er­ate North Korea’s grow­ing so­cial me­dia ef­forts, the at­tack is likely to cause em­bar­rass­ment, as it co­in­cided with the birth­day of the cho­sen suc­ces­sor, Kim Jong Eun.

Al­though it re­mains un­cer­tain who co­or­di­nated the breach, South Korean cit­i­zen me­dia Web sites and the South’s Yon­hap news agency at­trib­uted the scheme to South Korean hack­ers.

One tweet from Satur­day, as trans­lated by Yon­hap, read: “Let’s cre­ate a new world by root­ing out our peo­ple’s sworn en­emy Kim JongIl and his son Kim Jong Eun!”

Hours af­ter the at­tack, the Twit­ter mes­sages were still avail­able from Py­ongyang’s ac­count, @Urim­in­zok. But a re­lated state spon­sored Web site, www.urim­in­zokkiri. — the clos­est thing NorthKorea has to a home page— was out of com­mis­sion.

Py­ongyang main­tains fierce con­trol over in­for­ma­tion, but ex­perts say the govern­ment de­votes sub­stan­tial re­sources to IT train­ing, and the South Korean De­fense Min­istry has warned of the North’s net­work of so­phis­ti­cated hack­ers.

The North Korean govern­ment dove into the so­cial me­dia world last sum­mer, cre­at­ing state-sanc­tioned ac­counts on Twit­ter and, tem­po­rar­ily, Face­book. It tends to use the Web to de­nounce South Korean and U.S. poli­cies and to praise its lead­er­ship.

Washington re­acted largely with amuse­ment at the time, with State Depart­ment spokesman P. J. Crow­ley tweet­ing, “The North Korean govern­ment has joined Twit­ter, but is it pre­pared to al­low its cit­i­zens to be con­nected as well?” But Seoul takes a hard stance against pro-Com­mu­nist ma­te­ri­als, block­ing most North Korean Web sites and threat­en­ing jail for those who break around the fire­wall. Soon, in South Korea, Py­ongyang’s so­cial me­dia sites were blocked as well.

The on­line bat­tle be­tween the neigh­bors comes as Py­ongyang has ap­pealed for low­ered ten­sions and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. On Satur­day, it asked for bi­lat­eral di­a­logue within the next month, re­quest­ing “un­con­di­tional and early” talks.

South Korea re­jected a sim­i­lar of­fer last week, skep­ti­cal of the North’s in­ten­tions. Of­fi­cials in Seoul have asked that the North prom­ise good be­hav­ior— per­haps apol­o­giz­ing for pre­vi­ous provo­ca­tions— be­fore the sides talk.

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