For North Korean defectors, this is a nightmare come to life.
Hackers stole the personal information of 997 North Korean defectors living in South Korea, the South Korean government reported Friday.
The identity of the hackers is still unknown. But experts are reportedly worried for the safety and security of defectors and their families, according to the BBC.
Hana centers are South Korea’s resettlement agencies that work with defectors to introduce and acclimate them to life outside of the North Korean dictatorship. There are 25 centers servicing approximately 32,000 defectors. The centers keep track of defectors with digital records.
That provided hackers with a database of defectors. An employee at the North Gyeongsang resettlement center reportedly opened an email with a malicious attachment, which was able to penetrate his computer. That led to the hacker’s acquisition of the personal details of 997 defectors living in the North Gyeongsang province.
Personal details include names, birth dates, and addresses. The South Korean state said that this is the first significant hack involving defectors.
The elephant in the room: Was this the North Korean government?
Apparently the identity of the hacker or hackers is not yet known. But the South Korean government is aware of a North Korean hacking group that targets defectors. And North Korean hackers have been behind other high-profile breaches, notably the 2014 Sony hack.
Even without knowing with certainty the identity of the hackers, experts told the BBC that the breach may make defectors more fearful, and future defectors less willing to come forward. There is a chance that the hack may impact the families of defectors, since the identity of every defector is not known in North Korea.
Mashable has reached out to the U.S. State Department to learn whether the U.S. government is investigating the incident. We will update this story when and if we hear more.