North Korea accused of hacking into chip makers

North Korean hackers have broken into at least two manufacturers of chipmaking equipment in its southern neighbor to turn out its own semiconductors for weapons programs, South Korea's spy agency says.

The news comes after South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol warned North Korea could stage provocations, such as cyberattacks or spreading fake news, to interfere in April's parliamentary elections.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) said the South Korean firms had been a key target of North Korean hackers since late last year, and called for tougher security.

North Korea penetrated the servers of two companies in December and February, stealing product design drawings and photographs of their facilities, the NIS said.

“We believe that North Korea might possibly be preparing to produce its own semiconductors in the face of difficulties in procuring them due to sanctions,” it said in a statement.

Also driving the North’s efforts could be higher demand from its satellite, missile and other weapons programmes, it added.

Pyongyang has always denied involvement in cybercrimes, although North Korea has been blamed for cyberattacks netting millions of dollars.

The hackers employed the living-off-the-land technique, which minimises malicious codes and uses legitimate tools already installed within servers, making it difficult to detect with security software, the NIS said.

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