By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Feb. 13, 2024 8:30PM GMT+9
A hacker was found guilty of infiltrating the servers of a provincial educational institution and stealing examination results for nearly 90 percent of second-year high school students.
According to an announcement out of the Suwon District Court made on Tuesday, a 20-year-old man was sentenced to 18 months in prison on February 7 for hacking into the server of the Gyeonggi-do Office of Education. The court found that the defendant unlawfully accessed and disclosed nearly 280,000 instances of personal data to third parties on three occasions. However, the judges considered several factors in their sentencing, including that the defendant was 18 years old at the time of the crime and that his intent was to showcase his skills to peers rather than to obtain financial benefits.
The ruling came in response to an appeal by the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office against a lower court’s verdict, which had initially sentenced the young hacker to 30 months in prison in September of the previous year. The appeal argued that the crime was carried out with malicious intent to harm those who underestimated the defendant. Local news outlet News 1 reported that the prosecutors had requested a 5-year prison term for the individual, citing the extensive exposure of sensitive personal data. The accused had disseminated this information through a Telegram channel dedicated to sharing details about the examinations.
In February of the previous year, the Gyeonggi-do Office of Education announced that their system had been compromised, resulting in the exposure of personal data belonging to 270,000 second-year high school students. These students had participated in the national examination conducted in November 2022. The breach, which affected nearly 90 percent of the examinees, was notably made public on a Telegram channel. The compromised data encompassed sensitive information such as the students' names, schools, genders, and test scores.
Three months following the disclosure, South Korean authorities apprehended the suspect. A press release issued in June of the previous year detailed how the young hacker attempted to avoid detection by law enforcement through the use of a foreign IP address and by deleting the Telegram account immediately after transferring the extorted data to the channel's owner. The accused reportedly told the police that he stumbled upon a security vulnerability in the education institution’s server by accident and decided to move the personal data to the Telegram channel with the intention of boasting about his hacking skills.
In June of last year, the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office charged the suspect with 75 instances of unauthorized access to the servers of provincial educational institutions, spanning from October 2022 to February 2023. In addition to exposing the data of second-year high school students on Telegram in February 2023, the hacker was also accused of sharing a file containing the test scores of 10,234 third-year high school students with two friends in October 2022.
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The cover image of this article was designed by Areum Hwang. This article was copyedited by Arthur Gregory Willers.
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.