Internet gambling is on a roll in the US market after years lurking in the shadows

S.Korea nuclear plants stage drill against cyber attack

South Korea’s nuclear power plant operator launched a two-day drill Monday to test its ability to thwart a cyber attack, after a series of online information leaks by a suspected hacker.

The drill was conducted at the country’s four nuclear plant complexes, said Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co (KHNP), which operates 23 nuclear reactors and supplies about 30 percent of the country’s electricity.

“The two-day drill is under way through simulators to ensure the safety of our nuclear power plants under cyber attacks,” said KHNP spokesman Kim Tae-Seok.

Last week a suspected hacker published a variety of information on a Twitter account entitled “president of the anti-nuclear reactor group”.

It included designs and manuals for two reactors, as well as personal information on some 10,000 KHNP workers.

In a new message on Sunday, the hacker threatened to release more information unless the government shuts down three reactors from December 25 and warned residents living near the plants to stay away for the next few months.

State prosecutors have launched an investigation but so far failed to find out who was responsible.

Vice energy minister Lee Kwan-Sup said the leaks appeared to be from plants at Gori and Wolsong, southeast of Seoul, but said they and would not affect the safety of the reactors.

KHNP insisted the suspected hacker could not have gained access to the plants’ innermost networks, which were completely separated and isolated from unauthorised access.

“We believe the information must have been leaked before the networks were … isolated last year,” KHNP official Lee Jong-Ho told Yonhap news agency.

- Heightened tensions -

“The hacking of nuclear power plants is a serious problem … Our military is also maintaining a close watch on any cyber attacks,” South Korea’s defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said Monday.

The drill comes at a time of heightened concern about cyber crime after a crippling attack against Sony Pictures which both Seoul and Washington have blamed on North Korea.

President Barack Obama is considering adding North Korea to the US list of state sponsors of terrorism after the attack, which prompted Sony to halt the release of comedy action film “The Interview”.

The FBI has cited “significant overlap” between the attack and other “malicious cyber-activity” with direct links to Pyongyang, including an attack on South Korean banks and media agencies last year.

North Korea has denied involvement in the hacking, and threatened Sunday to hit back at the White House if it is targeted with sanctions.

It accused the Obama administration of being “deeply involved” in the making of “The Interview”, which concerns a fictional CIA plot to kill Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong-Un.

Pyongyang also denied on Sunday that it had ever launched a cyber-attack against South Korea.

In recent years, hackers have deployed cyber-attacks on South Korean military institutions, commercial banks, government agencies, TV broadcasters and media websites.

South Korean officials say the North is believed to run an elite cyber war unit of at least 3,000 personnel.

The cyber attack drill was conducted at the country's four nuclear plant complexes, said Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co (KHNP), which operates 23 nuclear reactors and supplies about 30 percent of the country's electricity needs

S.Korea nuclear plants stage drill against cyber attack

South Korea’s nuclear power plant operator launched a two-day drill Monday, testing its ability to thwart a cyber attack, after a series of online information leaks by a suspected hacker.

The drill was conducted at the country’s four nuclear plant complexes, said Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co (KHNP), which operates 23 nuclear reactors and supplies about 30 percent of the country’s electricity needs.

“The two-day drill is under way through simulators to ensure the safety of our nuclear power plants under cyber attacks,” said KHNP spokesman Kim Tae-Seok.

Last week a suspected hacker, using an account entitled “president of the anti-nuclear reactor group”, published a variety of information on a Twitter account.

It included designs and manuals for two reactors as well as personal information on some 10,000 KHNP workers.

In a new message on Sunday, the hacker threatened to release more information unless the government shuts down three reactors from December 25. The message warned residents in areas near the plants to stay away for the next few months.

State prosecutors launched an investigation but failed to find out who was responsible.

Vice energy minister Lee Kwan-Sup confirmed on Monday that the information leaked so far appeared to be from the plants at Gori and Wolsong southeast of Seoul.

The government has been handling this case with “extreme care”, although no sensitive information has been leaked so far, he said.

Lee said the leaks would not have any impact on the safety of the reactors.

The drill comes as South Korea is on guard against possible cyber attacks by North Korea after President Barack Obama said it was confirmed that the North carried out the hacking of Sony Pictures in the United States.

The FBI has cited “significant overlap” between the attack and other “malicious cyber-activity” with direct links to Pyongyang, including an attack on South Korean banks blamed on the North.

North Korea has denied involvement in the hacking of Sony Pictures, which prompted executives to halt the release of a film seen by Pyongyang as mocking its leader.

But the North threatened Sunday to hit back at the White House and other US targets if Washington sanctions it.

China's foreign minister Wang Yi (C) talks to journalists in Beijing on November 8, 2014 during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit

China condemns ‘cyber terrorism’ as Obama pledges N. Korea review

China condemned “cyber terrorism” on Monday after US President Barack Obama pledged to consider officially labelling North Korea, accused by Washington of hacking Sony Pictures, a state sponsor of terrorism.

The Chinese foreign ministry statement came after talks Sunday between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his counterpart John Kerry and followed calls by Washington for China and other nations for help in deterring future attacks.

Obama, while saying that the alleged hack was not an act of war, has promised an unspecified “proportionate” response.

South Korea’s nuclear power plant operator, meanwhile, launched a two-day drill to test its ability to thwart a cyber attack, though the exercise did not appear to be directly linked to the US-North Korea row.

In Beijing, a foreign ministry statement on Monday said the country “opposes cyber attacks and cyber terrorism in all of its forms,” without referring directly to China’s ally North Korea.

China “opposes any country or individual using facilities in other countries to launch cyber attacks toward a third country,” it said.

Washington accuses Pyongyang of being behind the hack that led to the release of embarrassing company emails and caused Sony executives to halt the debut of the comedy action film “The Interview”.

The film about a fictional CIA plot to kill the country’s leader infuriated North Korea, although Pyongyang has repeatedly denied it was behind the cyber assault.

Despite calls from Republican critics for a robust response to the alleged hack, Obama told CNN in an interview: “I don’t think it was an act of war. I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously.”

He also promised to “review” whether to return North Korea to the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, but added: “We’ve got very clear criteria as to what it means for a state to sponsor terrorism. And we don’t make those judgments just based on the news of the day.”

- ‘Significant overlap’ -

The hermit state threatened to hit back at the White House and other US targets if it was sanctioned over the alleged hacking.

The North’s National Defense Commission, in a statement on the official news agency, said its army and people “are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the US in all war spaces including cyber warfare space to blow up those citadels.”

According to the FBI, there is “significant overlap” between the Sony Pictures attack and other “malicious cyber-activity” with direct links to Pyongyang, including an attack last year on South Korean banks blamed on the North.

The South’s Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co (KHNP) on Monday began conducting drills at its four nuclear plant complexes after a series of online information leaks by a suspected hacker.

The hacker, using an account entitled “president of the anti-nuclear reactor group”, published a variety of information on Twitter, including designs and manuals for two reactors as well as personal information on some 10,000 KHNP employees.

There did not appear to be any link between the drill and the Sony Pictures hack, and North Korea says it has never attempted or made a cyber attack on South Korea.

China Plays It Safe Over Sony Hack

China Plays It Safe Over Sony Hack

China_Sonyhack

After being approached by the United States to help it deal with hackers in the wake of a massive cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment last month, China condemned all forms of hacking activities, but avoided criticizing Pyongyang, or responding to the U.S. call to act against North Korea. The U.S. has accused the North of backing the group of hackers, known as Guardians of Peace (GOP).

The Chinese government said in a statement on Sunday that the country’s foreign minister Wang Yi had a conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, during which he “reaffirmed China’s relevant position, emphasizing China opposes all forms of cyberattacks and cyber terrorism,” Reuters reported. The U.S. and China too have exchanged accusations of cybercrime against each other over the months, and a U.S. official has blamed China for allowing North Korean hackers to use Chinese servers to launch the attack on Sony Pictures.

Wang did not directly mention North Korea, which was blamed by the U.S. for the cyberattack against Sony Pictures, and instead made a general statement that China “opposes any country or individual using other countries’ domestic facilities to conduct cyberattacks on third-party nations.”

According to the report, China’s diplomatic maneuver over the hack is not surprising given the country’s historic friendship with North Korea, which it considers an ally. The Chinese government’s move over the Sony hack came after The Global Times, a tabloid run by the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, largely sided with North Korea and criticized “The Interview,” a controversial comedy about an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which is said to have prompted the hack.

“Any civilized world will oppose hacker attacks or terror threats. But a movie like ‘The Interview,’ which makes fun of the leader of an enemy of the U.S., is nothing to be proud of for Hollywood and U.S. society,” an editorial in the newspaper said. “No matter how the U.S. society looks at North Korea and Kim Jong-un, Kim is still the leader of the country. The vicious mocking of Kim is only a result of senseless cultural arrogance.”

The North Korean government has denied the U.S. allegations and has threatened to “blow up” the White House, the Pentagon and other U.S. targets in retaliation.

“We do not know who or where they (the hackers) are but we can surely say that they are supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK,” a commentary by the North Korean government on KCNA, the country’s state news agency, said. DPRK, which stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is the official name for North Korea.

“Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland, the cesspool of terrorism, by far surpassing the ‘symmetric counteraction’ declared by Obama,” the government said.

Meanwhile, a report from the Associated Press said Monday that North Korea, angry over the U.S. accusation of hacking, has refused to participate in a U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday, where the country’s miserable human rights situation is expected to be discussed.

N Korea demands joint probe over Sony hacking

US mulls putting N Korea back on terror list

The United States is considering whether to put North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terror, President Barack Obama has said.

“We’re going to review those through a process that’s already in place,” the president said in an interview aired on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union”.

“And we don’t make those judgments just based on the news of the day. We look systematically at what’s been done and based on those facts, we’ll make those determinations in the future.”

Obama’s comments came just days after the communist nation’s alleged cyber attack on Sony Pictures last month.
 
Washington accuses Pyongyangof being behind a hacking at Sony Pictures, which led to the release of embarrassing emails and caused executives to halt the release of the madcap comedy action film “The Interview” about North Korea’s leader.

The film about a fictional CIA plot to kill the country’s leader infuriated North Korea. 

North Korea denied responsibility and has proposed a joint investigation with the US to to find the culprits. Pyongyang also warned of “serious” consequences if Washington does not coooperate but did not give further details on the couse of action it will take.

Obama’s remarks, in the interview which was taped on Friday, followed a call from a leading US senator to re-consider North Korea’s terror designation.

Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday, saying the Pyongyang regime had set a “dangerous precedent” through cyber attacks that were “able to inflict significant economic damage on a major international company”.

The State Department rescinded its designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in October 2008.
Currently, the list includes just four countries: Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Obama has asked the State Department to consider removing Cuba, following the historic thawing of relations between the two Cold War rivals announced earlier this week.

A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin

U.S. firm finds malware targeting visitors to Afghan government websites

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Malicious software likely linked to China is being used to infect visitors to a wide range of official Afghan government websites, U.S. cybersecurity researchers say.

ThreatConnect, a Virginia-based cybersecurity firm, said its researchers last week found a corrupted JavaScript file that is being used to host content on “gov.af” websites, and there are no antivirus protections available for the malware.

Rich Barger, chief intelligence officer of ThreatConnect, told Reuters his company was confident the new campaign, “Operation Poisoned Helmand,” was linked to the “Poisoned Hurricane” campaign detected this summer by another security firm, FireEye, that linked it to Chinese intelligence.

He said the latest attack was very recent and one timestamp associated with the Java file was from Dec. 16, the same day Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang visited Afghanistan to meet with Afghanistan’s chief executive officer, Abdullah Abdullah.

China is seeking to take a more active role in Afghanistan as the United States and NATO reduce their military presence.

“We found continued activity from Chinese specific actors that have used the Afghan government infrastructure as an attack platform,” Barger said, noting that Chinese intelligence could use the malware to reach a wide array of global targets checking trusted Afghan government sites for information.

Barger said the attack was a variant of what he called a typical “watering-hole” attack in which the attackers infect a large number of victims, and then follow up with the most “promising” hits to extract data.

He said researchers this summer saw a malicious Java file on the website of the Greek embassy in Beijing while a high-level delegation led by Keqiang was visiting Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in Athens.

The two events were not directly related, Barger said, and additional research was needed into the status of ministerial and official government websites on or around the dates of notable Chinese delegations and or bilateral meetings.

The malware was found on a variety of Afghan government websites, including the ministries of justice, foreign affairs, education, commerce and industry, finance and women’s affairs, according to ThreatConnect, which was formerly known as CyberSquared.

The report emerged as the United States sought help from China, Japan, South Korea and Russia in combating cyber attacks such as the one Washington on Friday accused North Korea of carrying out against Sony Pictures.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Gunna Dickson)

Workers remove the poster for "The Interview" from a billboard in Hollywood, California on December 18, 2014

US to review NKorea terror status after Sony hack: Obama

The United States is mulling whether or not to place North Korea back onto its list of state sponsors of terrorism President Barack Obama said in an interview aired Sunday following the communist nation’s alleged cyber attack on Sony Pictures.

“We’re going to review those through a process that’s already in place,” the president said in an pre-taped interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“And we don’t make those judgments just based on the news of the day. We look systematically at what’s been done and based on those facts, we’ll make those determinations in the future.”

Washington accuses Pyongyang of being behind a hacking at Sony which led to the release of embarrassing emails and caused executives to halt the release of the madcap comedy action film “The Interview.”

The film about a fictional CIA plot to kill the country’s leader infuriated North Korea.

Obama’s remarks, in the interview which taped on Friday, followed a call from a leading US senator to re-consider North Korea’s terror designation.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday, saying the Pyongyang regime had set a “dangerous precedent” through cyber attacks that were “able to inflict significant economic damage on a major international company.”

The State Department rescinded its designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in October 2008.

Currently, the list includes just four countries: Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Obama has asked the State Department to consider removing Cuba, following the historic thawing of relations between the two Cold War rivals announced earlier this week.

Imagen sin fecha del líder de Corea del Norte, Kim Jong-Un, en Pyongyang, difundida por la agencia de noticias oficial del país el 9 de diciembre de 2014

Sony tells AFP it still plans movie release

Sony Pictures boss Michael Lynton denied Friday the Hollywood studio has “caved” by canceling the release of “The Interview,” and said it still hoped to release the controversial film.

He also hit back at President Barack Obama’s claim that it had made a “mistake” in pulling the movie, three and a half weeks after a massive cyber-attack blamed on North Korea angered by the film.

“We have not caved, we have not given in, we have persevered and we have not backed down,” Lynton told CNN, shortly after Obama accused Sony of making a “mistake.”

In a statement a short time later, Sony said that after canceling the release, “we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform.”

“It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so,” the studio added.

The Sony film, a comedy parody that recounts a fictional CIA plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, was scheduled for release on December 25, Christmas Day.

Hackers launched a massive cyberattack on the studio on November 24, followed by a series of threats, including earlier this week invoking the September 11 attacks.

- N. Korea denies behind attack -

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had evidence that Pyongyang was behind the attack, although North Korea’s mission to the United Nations almost immediately denied the claim.

Within a couple of hours, Obama used an end-of-year press conference in Washington to say Sony Pictures had erred in canceling the movie’s release date.

“I’m sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake,” he told reporters.

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States.”

But Lynton rejected Obama’s position.

“No. Actually the unfortunate part is in this instance, the president, the press and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,” he said.

Lynton explained how Sony had made its decision after most major US theater chains announced that they would not screen the movie.

He also rebuffed Obama’s suggestion that Sony should have asked the president what to do.

“We definitely spoke to a senior advisor in the White House,” the Sony chief said.

“The White House was certainly aware of the situation.”

Lynton added that finding alternative ways to release the movie was not straightforward, basically because distributors, whether online or retail, were still apprehensive about the threat.

“Many people don’t want to come near the movie because they fear that, in some way shape or form, their systems, their servers might be infected with the malware that came to us,” he said.

The Directors Guild of America said the online attack showed the chilling power of cyber criminals — and vowed solidarity with the embattled studio and its filmmakers.

“We stand by our director members Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and hope that a way can be found to distribute the film by some means, to demonstrate that our industry is not cowed by extremists of any type,” said DGA chief Paris Barclay.

He also urged US authorities to do more to fight cyber terrorism.

The hack illustrates “the heightened need for the federal government to increase its efforts to protect our society against cyber crimes, terrorism and all of its implications,” said Barclay.

Un ouvrier enlève une affiche du film "L'interview" à Hollywood le 18 décembre 2014

N.Korea calls for joint probe with US into Sony hack

North Korea on Saturday called for a joint investigation into a crippling cyber attack on Sony Pictures, claiming it had nothing to do with it.

“As the United States is spreading groundless allegations and slandering us, we propose a joint investigation with it into this incident”, the North’s foreign ministry said.

“Without resorting to such tortures as were used by the US CIA, we have means to prove that this incident has nothing to do with us “, he was quoted as saying by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stands on the conning tower of a submarine during his inspection of the KPA Naval Unit 167

North Korea proposes joint probe with the U.S. into Sony cyber attack: KCNA

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea proposed a joint investigation with the United States on the cyber attack against Sony Pictures, calling the charge by the FBI that it was behind the attack “slander”, state media said on Saturday.

An unnamed spokesman of the North’s foreign ministry said there would be “grave consequences” if Washington refused to agree to the joint probe and continued to accuse the North, the official KCNA news agency reported.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)