South Korea prosecutor goes hard on juvenile hacker who stole 1.4 million eBooks

By Hongeun Im, The Readable
Feb. 14, 2024 8:55PM GMT+9

The prosecutors’ office in South Korea has filed an appeal against a district court’s ruling to refer an 18-year-old hacker to juvenile court. The individual in question hacked and released at least 5,000 eBooks last May.

The Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office disagreed with the court’s February 2 decision, arguing that a case involving an 18-year-old hacker should be processed through a proper criminal trial rather than handled in juvenile court. The Seoul Eastern District Court had previously determined that the cybercriminal should be referred to juvenile court, implying that the individual would be subject to protective measures without incurring any criminal record.

“The method and extent of the damage caused by the crime are severe, and there’s a high risk of reoffending, given the premeditated nature of the act,” the prosecutors’ office stated. “Indeed, considering the severity of the offense, it is expected that the court would impose a stringent penalty.”

In September of last year, South Korea’s national police agency reported that the hacker had obtained approximately 720,000 decryption keys for eBooks from Aladin, a major eBook platform in South Korea, and released over 5,000 eBooks in May 2023. The individual accessed these decryption keys through the online bookstore’s network, employing them to bypass the security measures on the digital content. To evade detection, the hacker utilized cryptocurrency and a virtual private network (VPN) during the operation.

The hacker faced prosecution last October for hacking into and obtaining 1.4 million decryption keys for eBooks from two online bookstores, including Aladin. Additionally, the individual stole 596 video lectures from two renowned private academy websites and extorted financial benefits from Aladin. By threatening to release more eBooks, the hacker managed to extract approximately $64,000 from the company.

Following the exposure of the theft of the online content, the Korean Publishers Society voiced its concerns regarding the security of digital assets. The organization highlighted that once such assets are leaked, they can no longer be marketed as paid content. This effectively nullifies the hard work of countless authors and publishers involved in creating the thousands of eBooks that populate online outlets, such as Aladin.

In response to the breach, the Korean Publishers Society escalated matters by declaring on November 16 of last year, that it would cease supplying eBooks to Aladin unless the platform offered compensation for the losses their content creators had incurred. Despite ongoing meetings aimed at resolving the issue, the industry and Aladin initially struggled to find common ground. However, a resolution was reached on December 7, with Aladin agreeing to provide compensation, including financial payment and follow-up measures, to address the industry’s concerns.

The cover image of this article was designed by Sangseon Kim. This article was reviewed by Dain Oh and copyedited by Arthur Gregory Willers.

Hongeun Im is a reporting intern for The Readable. Motivated by her aspirations in cybersecurity and aided by the language skills she honed while living in the United Kingdom, Im aims to write about security issues affecting the Korean Peninsula and lead more people to become interested in cybersecurity. She attends Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Her interest in computer science led her to participate in the World Friends Korea volunteer program, where she taught Python at the Digital Government Center in Laos and at Al-Balqa Applied University in Jordan.