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High-tech spying

Posted March. 10, 2017 07:15,   

Updated March. 10, 2017 07:19


Hieronymus Bosch, a prominent Dutch painter in the 15th and 16th century, created “The Trees have Ears and the Field has Eyes.” The drawing depicts a forest with two ears in a landscape, which has seven eyes on the ground. At first sight, the drawing gives an eerie feeling. It is said that the work portrays Dutch people’s belief that even deserted forests have ears and empty fields have eyes. The idea is in the same vein as the Korean proverb saying, “Birds hear what is said by day, and rats hear what is said by night.”

A 2016 Hollywood film Jason Bourne has a magical hacking sequence. A CIA cyber expert in Virginia, the U.S. accesses a mobile phone in an office in Berlin, Germany to delete confidential documents from a laptop computer Bourne was using. The 6,000-kilometer distance across the Atlantic Ocean did not matter at all. Turning on the computer with a thumb drive with a malicious code embedded revealed the location of the user.

WikiLeaks on Tuesday released documents that cataloged the CIA’s cyberspying capabilities, including its development of a tool with which the agency could hack into and remote-control smartphones. The documents showed that the CIA can wiretap or videotape people by using other people’s smartphones regardless of their operating systems – Android or iOS. According to the documents, the agency is even able to take control of internet connected televisions and covertly listen in on conversations in people’s living rooms by making the TV look like it is turned off. We are living in a world where our Internet-connected TV sets on the wall can serves as the ears of Big Brothers.

It is essential for a country to be capable of detecting new cyberspying technologies using smartphones or smart TVs and have the deterrence that allow it to punish the cyber attacker as soon as they are detected. However, Lim Jong-in, a professor at the Graduate School of Information Security at Korea University, lamented that South Korea’s cyber security awareness is not much different from that of the late Joseon dynasty. He said the country is too preoccupied with building up conventional military forces rather than cyber deterrence. At a time when cyber-attacks can disable ballistic missiles, South Korea is making little progress in the area.