Tag Archives: South Korea

Korean Banks

The Washington Post report that it seems the attack on South Korea’s Nonghyup agricultural bank back in April was the work of North Korea. The evidence?

South Korean investigators said they determined that 10 servers used in the bank incident were the same ones used in previous cyberattack operations against South Korea, including one in 2009 and another in March, that they blamed on the North. Investigators say they determined, for instance, that a “command and control” server used in the 2009 operation was registered to a North Korean government agency operating in China.

This is interesting. Command and control servers are compromised computers that are used by bad guys to “run” other computers—zombies—that actually do the grunt work. There’s definitely a common thread between the 2009 and 2011 DDOS attacks, and plenty of circumstan

Facebook’s Asian Growth: Not Everywhere is North

I’ve seen some posts recently suggesting that Facebook is not doing well in Asia-Pacific. This, for example, from Forrester’s Reineke Reitsma:

For example, Facebook is struggling to gain ground in Asia Pacific:

With 58% of online adults accessing it, Orkut is the leading social platform in metropolitan India, while 27% of Japanese online adults use mixi; and in South Korea, Cyworld is most popular, attracting 63% of South Korean Internet users.

I won’t quarrel with her stats, but I’d suggest she’s missing a bigger picture: Facebook is growing at quite a clip in many Asian countries. My figures, based on Facebook data—which doesn’t include Japan and South Korea, admittedly–indicate that in 10 Asia-Pacific countries, Facebook membership has been growing at an average of nearly 9% per month for the past five months. That includes Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, China and India.

By far the biggest growth is in Southeast Asia, with Indonesia growing at 14% per month, Thailand 15%, Malaysia 12% and Philippines 13%.

India is growing at a similar rate, but with a far smaller proportion of population: still less than 1%. Thailand is less than 5%, but 10% of Indonesians now have a Facebook account, as do 23% of Malaysians, 14% of Filipinos and 42% of Singaporeans. Only Hong Kong beats that, with 44% of the population having a Facebook account.

Hong Kong and Singapore join other developed economies at reaching a critical mass—Australia 38%, New Zealand 36%—where growth has understandably tapered off to 5% per month or less.

So while it may well be true that Facebook ain’t big in North Asia, it’d be a mistake to assume that’s true of the rest of the Asia-Pacific region. Facebook is still the one to watch, and showing consistent growth this year in all 10 countries I’m monitoring.

(This updates my post back in January on Facebook stats.)

When Services Go Pro, Reach for Your Gun

Alarming and confusing news and views concerning Skype’s announcement of its new pricing strategy. Here’s a summary.

Key elements trumpeted in Skype’s press release (the most detailed information is here, courtesy of SkypeJournal):

  • Premium subscription package called Skype Pro, which includes free Skype Voicemail (€15 previously) and €30 off a SkypeIn number (previously €30). Cost: €2 per month
  • Removes per minute charges for SkypeOut calls (i.e. calls to ordinary phones) so long as they’re landlines and to the same country you’re in at the time of calling. I.e: unlimited calling, so long as it’s not to mobile phones.
  • Every SkypeOut (and I think SkypeIn) call, whether it’s to voicemail or not, incurs a separate connection fee of 0.039 Euro, excl VAT (5 U.S. cents). (This does not apply to existing unlimited calling plans if you’re calling within your specific country.)
  • Some SkypeOut destinations have been reduced (about seven, including Malaysia) for Skype Pro users to the Global Rate of 1.7 cents per minute).

Skype claims this option “offers our users more for less because they can buy additional Skype paid for products but for a smaller cost”. The service will be phased in from now in Europe, and, for now, will be available alongside the traditional service. (For Asian readers, Hong kong, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia are next.)

What does this mean for you? Well, of course it depends on what kind of user you are, and where you’re calling.

  • You’re going to be paying more per call than you were before, because of the connection fee.
  • If you’re an international caller, it’s going to be harder to calculate your potential savings/losses. I must confess I’m still trying to figure this out.
  • Jean Mercier, based in Belgium, has done some sums on his calling habits, and concludes that “occasional SkypeOut users will pay for the heavy SkypeOut users”. In other words, if you don’t use it a lot, you’ll end up paying more than you would before. HIs conclusion: “I really am astounded, and not in a positive way!”
  • Olga Kharif at BusinessWeek says it’s part of general raising of VOIP rates. “Sure, they need to find a way to make money. But I think raising prices is a big mistake. In the past, users switched to VoIP because it was the cheapest calling option around. When it’s no longer that, customers might no longer hurry to abandon their traditional telecom services providers for upstarts.”
  • Phil Wolff of SkypeJournal says you’ll be better off if you SkypeOut an average 4.3 minutes per day, or a couple of hours per month. This does not seem to include the connection fee in the calculation, however, and may not be relevant for international calls. I’m checking this with Phil.
  • For Paul Kapustka of GigaOM, the reasons behind the move are simple: Skype is in trouble. “Just add some cash to the bottom line, quickly! For customers, the question is — do you want eBay to be your phone company?”
  • PhoneBoy says that “what they are really doing is raising the price”.

My conclusions: Skype has been a revolution for a lot of my readers and friends who aren’t usually all that enamoured of technology. They’ve bought a headset, got a cable connection, installed the software, bought some credits, all because of the savings Skype offers. Many of them also enjoy the benefits of being online in a buddy list.

But what if Skype is no longer the cheapest option? Or if they feel they’re being lied to by press releases that are less than forthcoming about the real deal? Will they turn their newfound confidence in technology to switch to something cheaper and take all their buddies with them?

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Asia, the World’s Spam Factory

A new list from Sophos shows that spam is far from dying, thanks largely to Asia:

While the U.S. still tops the chart, for the first time it accounts for less than a quarter of all spam relayed. (Compare this to more than 50% two years ago.) But that’s not the problem anymore. The problem is a rise in non-English spam “with the vast majority now being relayed by ‘zombie’ computers hijacked by Trojan horses, worms and viruses under the control of hackers.”

Much of this is coming from China and South Korea, which together accounts for 32% of the world’s spam. Add Taiwan’s 2.1% to that and Asia is the world’s biggest relayer of spam. But lumping them together doesn’t do justice to the rise of China as a spam relayer: in the past two years it was responsible for less than 10% of the world’s spam; this year that figure has more than doubled, much of that rise in the last few months.

Of course by using percentages Sophos is able to avoid actually quantifying the problem — how much spam are we actually talking about here, and is it getting bigger or smaller? — saying only that “the level of non-English language spam is continuing to increase”, without offering any figures. But there’s no question of the trend: Crackdowns on spam in countries like the U.S. is only contributing to this, as “zombie computers – responsible for relaying more than 60% of the world’s spam – can allow spammers to escape country-specific legislation, as they no longer have to be located in the same country as the spamming machines they operate.”

The First U.S.-China Cyberwar?

There’s growing coverage of China’s Internet ‘cyberwar’ against the U.S., which seems to have been going on for more than two years with neither side wanting to go public. The U.S. is calling the attack Titan Rain, and as Bruce Schneier points out, the attackers are very well organized. This from AFP:

A systematic effort by hackers to penetrate US government and industry computer networks stems most likely from the Chinese military, the head of a leading security institute said. The attacks have been traced to the Chinese province of Guangdong, and the techniques used make it appear unlikely to come from any other source than the military, said Alan Paller, the director of the SANS Institute, an education and research organization focusing on cybersecurity. “These attacks come from someone with intense discipline. No other organization could do this if they were not a military organization,” Paller said in a conference call to announced a new cybersecurity education program. In the attacks, Paller said, the perpetrators “were in and out with no keystroke errors and left no fingerprints, and created a backdoor in less than 30 minutes. How can this be done by anyone other than a military organization?”

So what are they after? Paller says they’re after sensitive information, and may have gotten it, including military flight planning software from its Redstone Arsenal. Here’s a bit more detail about how these guys work, from a TIME story quoting Shawn Carpenter, the hacker who uncovered the attacks:

Carpenter had never seen hackers work so quickly, with such a sense of purpose. They would commandeer a hidden section of a hard drive, zip up as many files as possible and immediately transmit the data to way stations in South Korea, Hong Kong or Taiwan before sending them to mainland China. They always made a silent escape, wiping their electronic fingerprints clean and leaving behind an almost undetectable beacon allowing them to re-enter the machine at will. An entire attack took 10 to 30 minutes.

More on Carpenter in a Wikipedia entry here, and on his whistleblowing experience here. There’s an interesting piece by SearchSecurity’s Bill Brenner which looks at an August report by LURHQ dissecting the Myfip worm which appears to have been used by Chinese hackers to ferret around and grab PDF files. The worm has been around since August 2004. Later variants looked for Word documents, AutoCAD drawings, templates, Microsoft Database files, etc:

[Joe] Stewart [senior security researcher with Chicago-based security management firm LURHQ Corp] said his team was easily able to trace the source of Myfip and its variants. “They barely make any effort to cover their tracks,” he said. And in each case, the road leads back to China. Every IP address involved in the scheme, from the originating SMTP hosts to the “document collector” hosts, are all based there, mostly in the Tianjin province.

China, according to AFP, yesterday denied its military was involved in hacking:

“We have clear stipulations against hacking. No one can use the internet to engage in illegal activities,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a regular briefing on Tuesday. “The Chinese police will deal with hacking and other activities disturbing social order in accordance with law.”

Doesn’t make a lot of sense as a denial. Is he saying no one is doing it? Or no one official? Or that it’s going on and the police will deal with it? Not the first time a Chinese spokesman has uttered something meaningless. But I guess so long as the U.S. doesn’t make any official, public complaint this guerrilla war will remain unacknowledged by both sides. I guess the obvious lesson here is that security is not just against sleazeballs after your money, but after your PDF files too. And don’t think that because you’re not military you’re not affected. If you’re any kind of company you might have something that is valuable in the corporate and government espionage world.

Finding Liberation Online

Further to my earlier post about Lina Yoon’s piece on Korean ‘blogging’, here’s a taster to convince you to take out a subscription to WSJ.com, or go out and buy a copy of today’s AWSJ: WSJ.com – Finding Liberation Online 

SEOUL — In the real world, Kim Min Jung is an introverted secretary who finds it difficult talking to people she doesn’t know. When speaking, she often covers her face with her hands. On the Internet, though, the 28-year-old is no shrinking violet. On her personal Web site, Ms. Kim entertains about 1,200 visitors a day with plot summaries and witty commentaries on TV shows and movies. Online, she says, “I feel more confident expressing myself.”

In South Korea, centuries of patriarchal Confucian tradition have taught women to be deferential and reserved. But the country is also one of the most technologically advanced in the world, creating opportunities for women to freely express themselves in ways not yet seen in many other Asian societies. One of the most popular online avenues for women is Cyworld, an Internet community used by 14 million people — a little over one-quarter of the population of South Korea — that’s set to launch in the U.S. and other parts of Asia later in the year.

It’s just a short piece but does a great job looking at a very interesting phenomenon that may or may not take off elsewhere. Here’s some more detail on Ms. Kim that we had to cut for space:

For Ms. Kim, the secretary, expressing herself verbally remains difficult, but she finds herself becoming more popular in the office, with co-workers sending her ideas for her site.

Now, for a monthly fee of $30,000 to $40,000, companies are creating their own minihomepies to connect with younger female consumers. AmorePacific, a maker of beauty and skincare products in South Korea, started one for LaNeige Girl, a cosmetic line aimed at women aged 18 to 22. AmorePacific marketing executive An Yoo Shin says the site attracted 400,000 simultaneous viewers one day last year after a promotion offered anyone visiting the site at 5 p.m. a free background image of the LaNeige Girl character.

Now go and buy the paper.

News: Worming Its Way Into Korea

 Warning of a new computer worm, this time from South Korea. Yonhap reports Friday that W32/Smess.worm, BadTrans, appears attached to an instant message in MSN’s instant messenger service. The worm is a mutant version of another worm called Sinmsn, which was detected last July.
 
MSN’s messenger service, which gives pairs or groups of users the capability to send instantaneous text messages to each other via the Internet, is one of the most popular communication tools in South Korea, where more than 10 million customers are connected to the broadband Internet.

Update: Microsoft Says It’s Not Fair

  Microsoft is pretty upset about a plan by Japan, China and South Korea to develop an alternative operating system to Microsoft’s Windows software, saying it would raise concerns over fair competition, Reuters reports. “We’d like to see the market decide who the winners are in the software industry,” Tom Robertson, Microsoft’s Tokyo-based director for government affairs in Asia, told Reuters in a telephone interview. “Governments should not be in the position to decide who the winners are,” Robertson said.
 
Um, sure.

News: Step Aside, Bill, Let Asia Take It From Here

 From the Suspect This May Be Wishful Thinking Dept Japan, South Korea and China are set to agree to jointly develop a new computer operating system as an alternative to Microsoft Corp.’s Windows software, Reuters quotes Japanese media as saying on Sunday.
 
It would likely be built upon an open-source operating system, such as Linux. The recent spread of computer viruses targeting the Windows system was one reason behind the plan, as it has awakened governments to the need to reduce their dependence on Windows operating systems.

News: Bothered By Mosquitoes? Use Your Cellphone

 From the Why Use Bugspray When You Can Use Your Cellphone Dept, a report from the Korea Times on a new service by SK Telecom. Its seems South Korea’s top mobile operator is offering downloadable ring tones which, er, generate anti-mosquito sound waves that deter mosquitoes within a range of one metre.
 
 
The mosquito repelling service uses a particular spectrum of sound waves, which are undetectable by human ears. But the frequencies annoy mosquitoes, SK Telecom said. And presumably you, when you get the bill, at 3,000 won a download. One of the other downsides pointed out by the correspondent is that “the service takes up more battery power, but customers can effectively use the service with rechargeable equipment.” Or you could just throw your cellphone at the mosquitoes when the battery runs out.
 
Who said technology isn’t making our lives easier?