Foreign ministry faces criticism over security measures in diplomatic missions

By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Oct. 4, 2023 10:08PM GMT+9

The South Korean foreign ministry is facing criticism from South Korean lawmaker regarding their inadequate security measures in diplomatic missions.

South Korean lawmaker Lee Won-wook disclosed on Wednesday that the country’s diplomatic missions did not fully participate in the programs of security requirements. According to a statement released by his office, South Korea has opened 190 diplomatic missions abroad and more than half of them have not satisfactorily taken their security courses over the past three years. Lee revealed his findings based on documents submitted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

The lawmaker’s office explained that the MOFA conducts security education programs twice a year for those who are in charge of information and communication tasks. The program focuses on informing the officials about the recent developments in the threat landscape as well as enhancing their professional skills.

Lee stressed that these officials are an essential security workforce in the embassies as they are also appointed as information managers under the foreign ministry’s guidelines. The country’s rule states that information managers are tasked with defending diplomatic intelligence against cyber threats as well as protecting their embassies from potential information breaches.

“The information managers in 190 diplomatic missions are on the front line of cybersecurity,” said the lawmaker in the statement. “They must have an extensive understanding of the latest security trends.”

The South Korean foreign ministry strongly refuted the lawmaker’s claims stating that most of the diplomatic missions have engaged in the security education programs. An official of the MOFA, who requested to remain anonymous, told The Readable that the lawmaker’s statement did not consider the fact such as the relocation of embassy officials which could affect the person who takes charge of security tasks.

Meanwhile, the South Korean foreign ministry was repeatedly denounced by the country’s lawmakers over the past several years for their inadequate security measures in diplomatic missions. According to local news reports in 2017, South Korean lawmaker Cheong Yang-seog disclosed the result of the MOFA’s cybersecurity examination on diplomatic missions in 2016, which showed multiple security violations in eight diplomatic missions such as saving documents on unauthorized networks.

Furthermore, South Korean lawmaker Kim Yong-joo revealed in 2021 that seven USB storage devices were lost over the past five years among 167 diplomatic missions. Six of the disappearance were reported by the South Korean embassy in China in February of 2021 and one of them was lost in the country’s consulate general in Honolulu in August of 2021. The lawmaker underscored the severity of the issue as none of the devices were retrieved afterward.

The cover image of this article was designed by Areum Hwang.

Kuksung Nam is a journalist for The Readable. She has extensively traversed the globe to cover the latest stories on the cyber threat landscape and has been producing in-depth stories on security and privacy by engaging with industry giants, foreign government officials and experts. Before joining The Readable, Kuksung reported on politics for one of South Korea’s top-five local newspapers, The Kyeongin Ilbo. Her journalistic skills and reportage earned her the coveted Journalists Association of Korea award in 2021 for her essay detailing exclusive stories about the misconduct of a former government official. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in French from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, a testament to her linguistic capabilities.