SOUTH KOREA - President Park Geun-hye and her Cabinet approved a proposal Tuesday to launch a team under Cheong Wa Dae's National Security Office to counter North Korean cyberattacks.
Seoul remains vulnerable to cyberterror, despite pan-governmental countermeasures announced in 2013 in the wake of attacks allegedly carried out by Pyongyang.
Under the previous plan, the presidential office was to take a central role in responding to cyberattacks coordinating with related agencies, including the National Intelligence Service, the Korean National Police Agency and the Ministry of Future Strategy, without forming a new team for the purpose.
Despite the efforts, cybersecurity fears have increased in Seoul following a alleged hacking by Pyongyang on nuclear power plants and on Sony Pictures Entertainment in the United States in December.
Park's new security team is expected to build a new response system by recruiting top experts on cyberterrorism.
"The office is designed to enhance (South Korea's) cybersecurity capabilities, with the National Security Office taking a central role as a control tower," Park's spokesperson Min Kyung-wook told reporters.
A civil expert on cyberterrorism is expected to lead the new team, with working-level officials from relevant ministries also joining the group.
President Park has reiterated the importance of enhancing the nation's cybersecurity capabilities, stressing that the security situation on the peninsula has become unpredictable.
"North Korea could manipulate public opinion and fuel social unrest through cyberspace, without having to (physically) enter South Korea," Park said in a security meeting with top officials in early March.
Apart from hacking attempts on the South's nuclear reactors, North Korea is also suspected of trying to attack the control systems of public transportation in South Korea, including railway and subway systems, according to a recent report by the Institute for National Security Strategy.
The North Korean regime has been nurturing thousands of "cyberterrorists," said the institute, an affiliate to the nation's spy agency.
North Korea is known to operate a cyberwarfare unit of 1,700 elite hackers who are trained to break into computer networks to steal information and distribute malware. About 1,000 North Korean hackers are stationed in Asian countries, including China, Malaysia and Cambodia, disguising themselves as IT experts operating online gambling sites.
Under the direction of Pyongyang, they have been carrying out cyberattacks on South Korea's public and private entities to paralyse their networks, the report said.
In 2013, three South Korean banks ― Shinhan, NongHyup and Jeju ― and their insurance affiliates, as well as three TV broadcasters ― KBS, MBC and YTN ― were hit by a cyberattack as malicious code infected some 48,000 computers in their networks.
The US has also recently imposed fresh sanctions on North Korea over its alleged hacking to protest the comedy film "The Interview," which depicts a plot to assassinate its leader Kim Jong-un. The FBI has concluded that North Korea was behind the attack. Pyongyang denied its involvement, but described the attack as "a righteous deed."