From investigation to election: South Korea’s ongoing battle against smart home hacks

By Kuksung Nam, The Readable

May 16, 2022 9:30PM KST Updated May 18, 2022 2:25PM KST

Tackling smart home hacks has emerged as one of the key promises made in local elections in South Korea. Bae Kook-hwan, the Democratic Party’s candidate for the Seongnam mayoral election, promised to protect personal data from smart home hacks. In a statement released to the press last Tuesday, Bae stressed that he would put an end to the leakage of private information.

Although he proposed several measures, it is still unclear how a local government could prevent a personal data breach. Seongnam is a city in South Korea and part of Gyeonggi Province. Pangyo, which is often referred to as South Korea's Silicon Valley, is also situated in Seongnam.

However, the statement itself highlights South Korea's ongoing struggle against smart home hacks. In October of last year, a local news site, The Electronic Times, exclusively reported that smart home devices called "Wallpads" had been hacked. Wallpads are tablets attached to apartment walls which enables users to remotely control smart home gear. Wallpads are equipped with cameras that observes residents on a daily basis.

Design: Areum Hwang, Sawol

According to the report, huge amounts of personal data were siphoned from wallpads onto illegal websites. One month later, another local news site, The IT Chosun, revealed that personal videos extracted from wallpads were available on the dark web. Having been in contact with the hacker, the report also disclosed the list of apartments that had been hacked.

South Korean authorities are still investigating the smart home hacks. Last year, the National Police Agency announced that they started an internal investigation. But public concerns have been mounting ever since—not only because it is difficult to identify the attacks, but also because more people are living in smart homes. In the last five years, over 1,350 cases of IoT security vulnerabilities were reported to the Korea Internet & Security Agency (KISA).

The smart home market size has been continuously growing in South Korea. According to the National Intelligent Informatization White Paper, issued by National Information Society Agency (NIA) on 28 February this year, the smart home market size is expected to reach over 27 trillion won by 2025. Market sales for the Internet of Things (IoT), a key element of the smart home, have also been increasing. A survey conducted by the Ministry of Science and ICT showed that the market for IoT products related to the smart home reached revenues of approximately 252 billion won in 2021, compared to just 128 billion won in 2019.

Design: Areum Hwang, Sawol

Up until last year, the South Korean government has been making amendments to a law which aims to strengthen smart home cyber security. This is scheduled to take effect in January 2023. Whether it is the election, the investigation, or legislation, it seems clear that South Korea’s battle with smart home hacks will not be finished in the near future.

Kuksung Nam is a cybersecurity journalist for The Readable. She covers cybersecurity issues in South Korea, including the public and private sectors. Prior to joining The Readable, she worked as a political reporter for one of the top-five local newspapers in South Korea, The Kyeongin Ilbo, where she reported several exclusive stories regarding the misconduct of local government officials. She is currently focused on issues related to anti-fraud, as well as threats and crimes in cyberspace. She is a Korean native who is fluent in English and French, and she is interested in delivering the news to a global audience.