Hackers use N. Korean tweets to call for uprising

By Chico Harlan
Sunday, January 9, 2011

BEIJING - Apparently breached by hackers, North Korea's official Twitter account on Saturday described leader Kim Jong Il and heir apparent Kim Jong Eun as sworn enemies and called for an uprising to remove them from power.

By the time the micro-blogging mischief was over, the North Korean tweets had ranted to its 10,000-plus Twitter followers about profligate nuclear weapons spending and lavish Kim Jong Il drinking parties - hosted "while 3 million people are starving and freezing to death." A video also had been posted on North Korea's official YouTube channel that showed a caricature of Kim Jong Eun driving in a luxury sports car, running over women and children on the side of the road.

Because North Korea permits Internet access only to its most privileged citizens, the cyber attack caused minimal, if any, damage to the propaganda-built personality cult of the Dear Leader, whom Pyongyang, on un-hacked days, describes as a "a general sent from heaven." But for those who operate North Korea's growing social media efforts, the attack is likely to cause embarrassment, as it coincided with the birthday of the chosen successor, Kim Jong Eun.

Although it remains uncertain who coordinated the breach, South Korean citizen media Web sites and the South's Yonhap news agency attributed the scheme to South Korean hackers.

One tweet from Saturday, as translated by Yonhap, read: "Let's create a new world by rooting out our people's sworn enemy Kim Jong Il and his son Kim Jong Eun!"

Hours after the attack, the Twitter messages were still available from Pyongyang's account, @Uriminzok. But a related state-sponsored Web site, www.uriminzokkiri.com - the closest thing North Korea has to a home page - was out of commission.

Pyongyang maintains fierce control over information, but experts say the government devotes substantial resources to IT training, and the South Korean Defense Ministry has warned of the North's network of sophisticated hackers.

The North Korean government dove into the social media world last summer, creating state-sanctioned accounts on Twitter and, temporarily, Facebook. It tends to use the Web to denounce South Korean and U.S. policies and to praise its leadership.

Washington reacted largely with amusement at the time, with State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley tweeting, "The North Korean government has joined Twitter, but is it prepared to allow its citizens to be connected as well?" But Seoul takes a hard stance against pro-Communist materials, blocking most North Korean Web sites and threatening jail for those who break around the firewall. Soon, in South Korea, Pyongyang's social media sites were blocked as well.

The online battle between the neighbors comes as Pyongyang has appealed for lowered tensions and reconciliation. On Saturday, it asked for bilateral dialogue within the next month, requesting "unconditional and early" talks.

South Korea rejected a similar offer last week, skeptical of the North's intentions. Officials in Seoul have asked that the North promise good behavior - perhaps apologizing for previous provocations - before the sides talk.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company