A South Korean tank last month in an exercise near the border with the North © Bloomberg
A trove of classified military documents, including the joint South Korea-US wartime operational plans for conflict with Pyongyang, were stolen by North Korean hackers, a lawmaker in Seoul said.
Lee Cheol-hee, a member of the ruling Democratic party, on Tuesday said hackers had broken into a defence data centre in September last year. He said stolen documents included Operational Plans 5015 — the most recent allied blueprint for war with North Korea.
The plans also include detailed procedures for a decapitation strike against the North Korean regime — a proposal that has reportedly infuriated Kim Jong Un, the country’s supreme leader.
The development comes amid growing anxiety in South Korea that US President Donald Trump intends to use military action to curb North Korea’s rapidly developing nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes.
Citing the South Korean defence ministry, Mr Lee said 235 gigabytes of data had been stolen, although 80 per cent of the documents had yet to be identified. Among the files identified were contingency plans for Seoul’s special forces as well as information on key military facilities and power plants, the lawmaker said.
North Korea is known to have advanced cyber warfare capabilities and is believed to be behind attacks on governments, financial institutions and even film studios worldwide.
In May South Korea’s defence ministry said its reclusive northern neighbour had penetrated Seoul’s military online network, although it did not reveal what was stolen at the time, state-run Yonhap news agency reported.
“This is a really serious matter,” said Kim Tae-woo, former president of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a South Korean think-tank. “Given the military is playing down this announcement, I am concerned at the extent of information that has been stolen by North Korea.”
“Part of my mind hopes the South Korean military intentionally leaked the classified documents to the North with the intention of having second strategy,” he added.
In recent months the possibility of a strike against North Korea’s leader has gained momentum in some circles.
In January Seoul announced the formation of a special military unit to eliminate Mr Kim in the event of war. A few months later, the US Central Intelligence Agency set up a Korea Mission Centre.
The prospect has reportedly infuriated the North Korean leader, who has responded by changing his daily routine as well as the cars he travels in, according to South Korean lawmakers briefed by the nation’s intelligence agency.