[Weekend Briefing] State audit and intelligence agency

By Kuksung Nam and Dain Oh, The Readable
Oct. 28, 2022 7:25PM KST

Hello, this is Kuksung Nam and Dain Oh in South Korea. The South Korean state audit of this year is heading towards the end. While various issues arose during the audit, a high-ranking official at the intelligence agency abruptly resigned from this post. Including this issue, The Readable has picked four news stories. Have a great weekend!

1. State audit and intelligence agency

A high-ranking official of the South Korean spy agency has abruptly resigned from his post, leaving questions about the reasons for his unexpected departure. Cho Sang-joon, the head of Planning and Coordination of the National Intelligence Service, offered his resignation on Tuesday after approximately four months in office, multiple local news outlets reported.

His resignation came a day before the parliamentary audit of the spy agency which was planned to be held on Wednesday. At first, a reason was not given for the head of Planning and Coordination’s departure, which led people to speculate about the specific reason, including a conflict within the agency regarding the appointment of employees. The rumors circulated even after the Office of the President said that he resigned for personal reasons.

The NIS issued a statement on Thursday saying that the resignation of a former high-ranking official was due to personal reasons, brushing aside multiple speculations related to the reasons for his abrupt departure. “It is completely false,” the NIS said in the statement. “We have been informed that the former head of Planning and Coordination has expressed his resignation for personal reasons.”

President Yoon formally nominated Cho Sang-joon, a former deputy chief of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office, to serve as the head of Planning and Coordination of the NIS in June. The post is one of the highest-ranking positions in the office, covering the budget and management of the spy agency.

2. Domain name scam from China is still active

The Readable has recently received two emails from people who introduced themselves as registrars in China. With a title of “thereadable,” the first email was sent on October 20 by Mike Zhang. This person warned us of an attempt by a company called Hai Tong Ltd, which applied to register multiple domain names, such as “thereadable.cn,” implying that the company was trying to steal our name.

Source: The Readable

A day after, another person whose name was Kerr Lee sent us a very similar email, which argued that a company called GriFy Global Ltd officially submitted an application to register The Readable as their domain name. The person encouraged us to reply to the email, saying that it was urgent for us to confirm the application as soon as possible. Even though the senders included their phone numbers and addresses to prove their legitimacy, it did not take long to figure out that they were scammers.

Source: The Readable

An anti-cybercrime community Online Threat Alerts already shared information about a domain name scam from China in September 2017, recommending that website or domain name owners should not respond to fraudulent emails. The email that OTA showed as an example was exactly the same as one of the emails that The Readable received. A British newspaper The Guardian also wrote in May 2015 regarding this issue, mentioning that it is a common scam to persuade someone to register a number of overpriced Chinese domain names that they do not need. According to Wikipedia, a wave of emails from China, which were in fact domain name scams, were discovered in August 2007. An Indian IT magazine Dataquest mentioned that some users paid scammers over £3000 ($3462) every year in order to maintain domain names that they do not need.

3. Teachers might face punishment for neglecting students’ hacking

The teachers and staff members of a private high school in South Korea might face disciplinary action for not taking preemptive measures to prevent students from breaking into the teachers’ office and stealing examination papers and answers.

Designed by Areum Hwang, The Readable

The Gwangju Metropolitan Office of Education said on Thursday in a press briefing that it had requested the school foundation to take disciplinary action against nine teachers and staff members as a result of an internal investigation, local news outlets reported. The punishment includes one month of suspension from office for the principle, two months of reduction of salary for the vice principal, and a warning to the school foundation.

In August, the South Korean police said that two students enrolled in the private high school were under investigation for allegedly breaking into their teachers’ office and hacking the teachers’ laptop computers to gain access to examination papers and answers. The students successively stole several examination papers and answers before the midterm and the final test. The police said that the school security system did not detect the entry of the students because the system was cut-off due to classroom rearrangement construction in January.

The Education Office decided that the negligence of the private high school on managing the examination system led to an additional leakage of exam papers and answers. In 2018, a staff member of the school conspired with one of the parents and handed out the examination paper before the actual exam, local news outlets reported. The reports added that the school foundation did not comply with the disciplinary action requested by the Education Office, imposing a reduced punishment against the teachers and staff members of the school.

It is unclear whether the teachers and staff members will be subjected to the exact punishment requested by the Education Office. “Since it is a private high school, it is up to the school foundation to follow the decision,” said an official of the Gwangju Metropolitan Office of Education. The official added that the Education Office could impose an administrative fine under the Private School Act when the school foundation refuses to follow their recommendations.

4. Samsung rolls out ‘Maintenance Mode’ as user protection

Samsung Galaxy users will be able to protect their personal data while their phones are being repaired. Samsung Electronics released a new privacy feature called “Maintenance Mode” on Tuesday, allowing users to block access to their personal information, such as their photos and messages, when their devices are in someone else’s hands for repairs.

According to a press release by Samsung, Maintenance Mode creates a separate user account that allows a repairperson to test core functions without being able to access any of the user’s data. Users can turn on Maintenance Mode before they hand their devices to a repairperson and turn it off once they get their phone back.

“Our whole lives are on our phones, from credit card information to family photos,” said Shin Seung-won, VP and head of the security team at Mobile eXperience Business, Samsung Electronics. “With Maintenance Mode, we are giving extra reassurance that Galaxy users can keep their privacy, even if they hand their phone to someone.”


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

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.

Dain Oh is an award-winning cybersecurity journalist based in South Korea and the founding editor-in-chief of The Readable by S2W. Before joining S2W, she worked as a reporter for The Electronic Times, the top IT newspaper in Korea, covering the cybersecurity industry on an in-depth level. She reported numerous exclusive stories, and her work related to the National Intelligence Service led to her being honored with the Journalist of the Year Award in 2021 by the Korea Institute of Information Security and Cryptology in a unanimous decision. She was also the first journalist to report on the hacking of vulnerable wallpads in South Korean apartments, which later became a nation-wide issue.