By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Jul. 13, 2023 9:30PM GMT+9
South Koreans should be cautious of email phishing scams as they are the most prolific attacks deployed against the country, warned a cybersecurity expert on Wednesday.
“A lot of people underestimate the impact of email-based attacks. Even security experts regard them as something harmless that they encounter every day,” said Mun Chong-hyun, director of the security center at the South Korean cybersecurity firm Genians, during a speech at the International Conference on Information Security (ICIS). “This is not true. More than 74% of the attacks targeting South Koreans are conducted through email.”
The director added that the attackers are sending emails so meticulously that it is almost impossible for victims to discover the senders’ identity. He shared an actual phishing email sent to one of the country’s North Korean experts in January. In the document, the hackers presented themselves as a staff member of a peace forum which the target was planning to attend. The attackers used the conference as a lure to bait the victim into clicking the malicious file attached to the email.
“The hackers wrote that they needed the expert’s profile in advance so that they could include them in conference materials,” said Mun. “If the expert did not reply to this email, then he could be regarded as neglecting these duties.”
The attackers are also putting efforts into disguising themselves not just from the victims but also from cybersecurity professionals. The expert explained that the hackers are changing the letters of email addresses to avoid detection from the South Korean government. In a phishing email deployed in May, the criminals posed as the Ministry of Unification and tried to trick their targets by changing the last letter of the official address from an “r” to an “o.”
The severeness of phishing attacks will escalate with the development of artificial intelligence. Lee Sang-kyun, an associate professor in the department of cyber defense at Korea University, stated during his speech at the ICIS that phishing combined with AI would make it hard for people to differentiate between truth and falsehood. He shared his concerns about the emerging risk by explaining a hypothetical case where hackers used ChatGPT to post bad information about a company, disguising it as an activity conducted by multiple users.
According to a research paper published by the AI company DeepMind last May, AI could pose an extreme risk as it has the capability to deceive, persuade, and manipulate people. “This is a time when professionals in the security industry and the AI domain should combine their efforts to study potential cybersecurity threats in the hyper-scale AI era,” said Lee.
This does not only apply to the AI domain but also to other emerging technologies as well. “There will be a point where current cryptology is no longer safe,” said Han Dong-guk, a professor in the department of information security, cryptology, and mathematics at Kookmin University, during his speech at the ICIS. “It is important for us to transition to this new era, as this is a crucial system needed to protect our data in public and private industry.”
However, the professor stressed the need to prepare our capabilities in emerging industries related to post-quantum cryptography, such as intellectual property rights, security evaluation, and security training. “There are countries that are already prepared for the new industry,” said the professor. “We don’t know if this change will be a crisis or an opportunity for us. It will be an opportunity for those who are prepared and it will be a crisis for us if there is no change.”
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.