South Korea’s government network collapsed for nearly 48 hours

By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Nov. 20, 2023 7:10PM GMT+9

South Korea experienced a massive breakdown in its government network for nearly two days, leaving citizens and public service workers on edge before its full restoration on Sunday evening.

On November 19, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety (MOIS) held a press briefing and announced that they have fully restored the government network. South Korea faced a sudden network outage in its system early last Friday. The network failure caused various disruptions in the operations of public service workers, as they were cut off from accessing the internal government network called the ‘Saeol.’ It also resulted in the breakdown of online services, which enable citizens to be issued public documents without submitting an application manually to government employees.

The MOIS stated that the failure stemmed from a malfunction in one of the network devices that supports the Saeol system. “We have looked thoroughly into all the information systems that are relevant to the Seoul system,” said Ko Ki-dong, the Vice Minister of the MOIS, while explaining their process of normalizing the government network. “We have found that there is a problem with a network device which operates as a part of an authentication system, and we replaced it early on Saturday morning.”

The South Korean government explained that further investigations must be undertaken to determine the cause of the disruption of the network devices. However, they denied claims suggesting that the massive failure was the result of a cyberattack. The government further stated that the problem was not caused by the use of outdated devices. The Readable reached out to the MOIS to ask the reason behind their decision to exclude the possibility of that the outage was the result of an attack by malicious actors. However, the government did not respond to comment.

“Although it is not impossible, it is highly unlikely to consider the cause of the outage to be the result of a cyberattack,” said Youm Heung-youl, a professor from the department of information security engineering at Soonchunhyang University to The Readable. “The MOIS stated that they changed the problematic device that was at the root of the problem. We have to analyze that device and discover the true cause of the network outage.”

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.