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Calling Korea: How to Stay Safe Online

Created: 22 Jan 2014
Philip Routley's picture
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You need to think global in the 21st century. But sometimes it’s vital to keep a local perspective too. Take internet security. Many threats have a worldwide character but, in every country, consumers and businesses also face specific dangers every time they go online with their laptops, tablets, smartphones or desktops.

And it’s the threats that have been carefully crafted to exploit local trends and behaviours that are often the most plausible and destructive – and most likely to leave you counting the cost in terms of financial loss, stolen data, identity theft, disruption and inconvenience.

Korea is a prime example of what this means in practice. It’s a magnet for cybercriminals based both inside and outside the country, attracted by Korea’s affluence and its well-earned reputation as one of the world’s leading ‘online nations’. In this, the first country to reach 100% WiFi penetration, where 30 million people own smartphones and over 90% of homes have high-speed internet access, cyber-gangs know that their growing arsenal of increasingly innovative and cynical weapons can reap huge rewards.

As the following real-life news stories show, the internet is the natural habitat of thieves and fraudsters deliberately locking Korea in their sights and unleashing an ever-expanding swarm of threats at the country:

  • Target Korea! ‘Voice phishing’ scams originating in China feature attacks where callers, imitating officials, adopt Seoul accents to dupe victims into revealing their online bank account data.
  • Target Korea! ‘Smishing’ attacks total 20,000 in 18 months, with over 4 billion won stolen through bogus links to malware-infected websites distributed through apparently innocuous SMS messages.
  • Target Korea! Data-stealing malware infiltrates devices used by online gamers worldwide – but with Korea accounting for over 90% of reported cases.
  • Target Korea! Two Koreans are arrested for allegedly stealing the personal data of around 8 million cellphone users.

 

HOW ONLINE HABITS TURN DANGEROUS

Think of it as a warped form of ‘market forces’. The fact is, the exact pattern of internet threats facing any individual country inevitably reflects the pattern of online behaviour there. Online gaming is a classic case. It’s attracted millions of devotees in Korea, so cybercriminals channel time and effort into developing threats to exploit this, using fake versions of games, for example, as the ‘carrier’ to deliver viruses to users’ devices.

Korea is also at the vanguard of the surge in mobile banking, with mobile devices accounting for nearly 40% of all internet banking transactions by mid-2013. Again, cybercriminals have been quick to exploit the trend, as well as the tendency for consumers and businesses to be less vigilant where mobile devices are concerned. Techniques such as ‘pharming’ can really pay dividends. A smartphone, say, gets infected with malware through a visit to an infected website. The user types in their bank’s web address but is sent to a fake site. They innocently type in their bank details – and the criminals clear out their account.

Koreans’ love of online shopping also poses its share of risks. Simple scams involving fake websites offering cut-price goods that never arrive are just one example. Even using the hugely popular taobao.com – which in 2012 reportedly passed a leading online payment provider as the internet’s most phished brand – can have unexpected consequences. When it launched one site-wide sale, shoppers with devices that cybercriminals had infected with a ‘trojan’ saw money move from their bank accounts to an unknown site as they tried to make a purchase. 

But it’s not just a matter of WHAT you do online. WHERE and HOW are serious sources of danger too. With free WiFi services available at over 1000 transport hubs, leisure spots and other public areas across the country, the opportunities to intercept data or hack into poorly secured devices have never been greater. Even the dominance of Internet Explorer presents problems – ironically, laws passed in 1999 to boost internet security in Korea have had the opposite effect, with 75% of web usage in the country relying on a search engine whose bugs and vulnerabilities are continually exploited by cybercriminals. Korean users have been specifically targeted in several cases, such as this example of a ‘zero-day’ attack.

 

FIGHT BACK – AND PROTECT YOURSELF

Even in this hyper-connected, highly tech-savvy country, the internet is a world of smoke and mirrors where it’s hard to tell the genuine from the fake, the harmless from the sinister – especially with other pressures and distractions demanding businesses’ and consumers’ attention.

Yet a few simple steps are all it takes to minimise the chances of coming to harm. The key is to THINK carefully, USE sensibly and CHOOSE wisely:

  • THINK before you click on weblinks or message attachments (whatever device you’re using). Are you really sure you can trust them?
  • USE common sense at free public WiFi facilities. Are you sure the data you access or transmit is secure and that your device is properly protected against hackers?  
  • CHOOSE well-known, reputable websites for your online shopping. If a bargain on an unfamiliar site sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • CHOOSE, too, a trustworthy security solution. And don’t neglect tablets and smartphones – often the weak link offering the biggest temptation to cyber-criminals.

Norton Internet Security, for example, provides benchmark antivirus and antispyware protection and equally effective defences against web and Facebook-based threats. Norton Mobile Security, meanwhile, protects smartphones and tablets from emerging threats like smishing, as well as more established dangers, and includes a remote ‘lock and wipe’ feature you can activate if your device is lost or stolen. More than a match for malware even from new and unknown sources, these solutions let you surf, bank, buy, game, text and email with confidence – and can help safeguard Korea as this impressively forward-thinking and future-focused country continues to exploit the incredible potential of the online revolution.