Australia vulnerable to Korean hacking army

An army of more than 500 hackers hired by the North Korean military could find Australian businesses a "softer target" than their US or European-based counterparts, according to security experts.The hacking army's mission is to break into South Korean, Japanese and American corporate networks to gather intelligence and steal trade secrets, according to reports.

An army of more than 500 hackers hired by the North Korean military could find Australian businesses a "softer target" than their US or European-based counterparts, according to security experts.

The hacking army's mission is to break into South Korean, Japanese and American corporate networks to gather intelligence and steal trade secrets, according to reports.

But security experts are concerned because although Australian-based corporates' hold the same intellectual property as their US and EU-based offices, they are not as paranoid about security.

A US security expert who requested anonymity said Australia could provide a "back door" into corporate networks and provide the North Koreans' with intellectual property worth billions of dollars.

"Countries like China and North Korea are not exactly poster children for copyright enforcement. North Korea's economic position is not favourable and that makes it more dangerous. They want the ability to manufacture goods better and cheaper," the security expert said.

Terry O'Keeffe, Leader of the Asia Pacific Cyber Attack Tiger Team at telecommunications giant Cable and Wireless, said Australia could be seen as a softer target than the US.

"We are a trusted ally - along with the UK, Canada and New Zealand - but we are not quite as paranoid as the Americans," said O'Keeffe.

A spokesperson from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which is responsible for warning the government of any potential threats to national security, admitted to ZDNet Australia that electronic espionage attacks "happen all the time".

The spokesperson said the ASIO is aware of the problem and is taking an interest in it, but would not be able to comment on anything not specifically mentioned in its annual report.

However, Mikko Hyppönen, director of anti-virus research at European security firm F-Secure, is sceptical.

"This is probably more boasting than a real threat. In the past we have seen similar claims from the Taiwanese and the East Timorese," said Hyppönen.