‘Olympic Destroyer’ malware targeted Pyeongchang Games: firms

Performers appear during the opening ceremonies at the 2018 Winter Olympics at the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang, South Korea February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Christof Stache/File Photo

By Jim Finkle

(Reuters) – Several U.S. cyber security firms said on Monday that they had uncovered a computer virus dubbed “Olympic Destroyer” that was likely used in an attack on Friday’s opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

Games Organizers confirmed the attack on Sunday, saying that it affected internet and television services but did not compromise critical operations. Organizers did not say who was behind the attack or provide detailed discussion of the malware, though a spokesman said that all issues had been resolved as of Saturday.

Researchers with cyber security firms Cisco Systems Inc, CrowdStrike and FireEye Inc said in blog posts and statements to Reuters on Monday that they had analyzed computer code they believed was used in Friday’s attack.

All three security companies said the Olympic Destroyer malware was designed to knock computers offline by deleting critical system files, which would render the machines useless.

The three firms said they did not know who was behind the attack.

“Disruption is the clear objective in this type of attack and it leaves us confident in thinking that the actors behind this were after embarrassment of the Olympic committee during the opening ceremony,” Cisco said in its blog.

The attack took the Olympics website offline, which meant that some people could not print out tickets and WiFi used by reporters covering the games did not work during the opening ceremony, according to Cisco.

The attack did not affect the performance of drones, which were initially scheduled to be included in the opening ceremony, but later pulled from the program, organizers said in a statement.

The drone light show was canceled because there were too many spectators standing in the area where it was supposed to take place, the statement said.

(Reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto; Editing by David Gregorio, Andrew Hay and Cynthia Osterman)

Awkward diplomacy on show as ‘peace’ Games get underway

General view of performers during the opening ceremony.

By James Pearson and Hyunjoo Jin

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – The Winter Olympics sparked to life in a vivid, colorful ceremony of fire and ice in South Korea on Friday, though the diplomacy was tougher to choreograph in the stadium where leaders from nations that are sworn enemies sat close together.

South Korea, which is using the Pyeongchang Games to break the ice with North Korea, seated its presidential couple alongside U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, with two of the North’s most senior officials sitting in the row behind.

President Moon Jae-in, who wants to harness the Olympic spirit to pave the way for talks over the North’s nuclear and missile program, warmly shook hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s smiling sister as well as the North’s nominal head of state.

The South is still technically at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, and the United States and North Korea have recently swapped nuclear threats. Pence vowed only this week to tighten sanctions on the North.

Underlining Moon’s efforts to re-engage with the North, the opening ceremony followed the story line of children wandering through a mythical landscape and discovering a world where people live in peace and harmony.

The Olympics have provided some respite from years of tense relations between Seoul and Pyongyang, though just hours before the ceremony hundreds of anti-North Korean protesters scuffled with riot police outside the stadium, burning North Korean flags and pictures of its leader, Kim Jong Un.

South Korea’s frigid February, where temperatures have plummeted to minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) at night, has come as a shock to the system for athletes and visitors alike in the leadup to these Games, prompting concerns about hypothermia at the opening ceremony.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Opening Ceremony – Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium- Pyeongchang, South Korea – February 9, 2018 - Performers during the opening ceremony.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Opening Ceremony – Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium- Pyeongchang, South Korea – February 9, 2018 – Performers during the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Phil Noble

The weather was a little milder than forecast on Friday, but spectators still huddled near heaters, holding hot packs and slurping down steaming fishcake soup to ward off the chills.

Bundled up in a scarf, mask and knitted hat, with hot packs tucked into her knee blanket, office worker Shin Hye-sook said she and her three colleagues were coping with the cold.

“It’s okay unless the wind blows,” said the 60-year-old. “We’re sitting as close as we can and trying not to move a lot to save our energy.”

LONG WAIT FINALLY OVER

Pyeongchang has waited a long time for this moment.

The alpine town first bid for the 2010 Games but narrowly lost out to Vancouver, and suffered similar heartbreak when it was beaten to the 2014 Olympics by Sochi.

After announcing its arrival on the international stage by hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics, South Korea now wants to show the world just how far it has come over the last 30 years with a Games showcasing its culture and technological prowess.

According to Olympic tradition, the Greek contingent headed the parade of athletes into the open-air stadium, followed by the other delegations in order according to the Korean alphabet.

Pence stood to welcome the U.S. athletes as the Korean pop hit Gangnam Style blared around the stadium, sparking the ‘Horse Dance’ in the crowd and among the volunteers.

The moment failed to elicit even a smile from the two senior North Korean officials in the VIPs box, however, as they sat stony-faced in black fluffy hats and long coats.

Elsewhere in the stadium, a Kim Jong Un impersonator was not made as welcome as the North Koreans in the VIP box and was ejected by security. “Well is my sister getting the same treatment?” he demanded to know.

As the athletes made their way around the track, one of the biggest cheers was reserved for muscle-bound Tongan Pita Taufatofua, who repeated his famed Rio Games entrance by marching in shirtless, oiled up and wearing a traditional skirt — this time in sub-zero temperatures.

Another flag-bearer who eschewed warm clothing was Bermuda’s Tucker Murphy wore the territory’s traditional red shorts.

Samaneh Beyrami Baher blinked back tears at the head of Iran’s four-strong athletic delegation, and minutes later the crowd erupted as athletes from North and South Korea marched together under the unification flag for the first time at an Olympics since 2006.

A contingent of North Korean cheerleaders greeted the athletes by waving a controversial version of the flag depicting disputed islands known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.

Norio Maruyama, press secretary at Japan’s Foreign Ministry, said he had not seen the flag so he did not want to comment. But he said the Games were a festival of peace and he did not want to undermine that aspect.

(Writing by Peter Rutherford; Additional reporting by Jane Chung and So Young Kim; Editing by Mark Bendeich)

North Korea warns against U.S.-South Korea military drills after Olympics

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho departs after addressing the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 23, 2017.

By Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has warned that if the United States goes ahead with delayed military exercises with South Korea after the Winter Olympics it will not “sit idle”, the North’s foreign minister said in a letter to the United Nations.

North Korea has not tested a missile since late November 2017 and entered into inter-Korean dialogue in January, the first talks in two years, which have eased tensions after a year of escalating rhetoric between the Pyongyang and Washington.

Whenever joint military exercises took place “the peace and security of the Korean peninsula were gravely threatened and the inter-Korean mistrust and confrontation reached the top, thus creating great difficulties and obstacles ahead of hard-won dialogues,” North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said in the letter published by the official North Korean news agency.

“We will make every effort to improve inter-Korean relations in future, too, but never sit idle with regard to sinister act of throwing a wet blanket over our efforts.”

The United States and South Korea have agreed to push back a routine early-year joint military drill until after the South holds the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The Games begin next week and run until March 18.

In the letter, Ri said the United States was misleading public opinion by claiming its pressure campaign, including “their harshest sanctions,” had brought about the inter-Korean talks, when the “dramatic turning point” was entirely thanks to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In a commentary on Friday, North Korea’s state media said Washington was attempting to create a “stage of confrontation” at the Olympics by saying that inter-Korean talks and positive results that had stemmed from them could “disappear” after the Games.

Asked to comment, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Mike Cavey, said: “The United States and our allies and partners in the region have long conducted routine exercises to maintain readiness. These exercises ensure we are trained for combined joint operations.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has warned that all options are on the table, including military ones, to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons capable of hitting the United States.

While it has repeatedly said it prefers a diplomatic solution, Trump has exchanged threats with Kim and U.S. officials have said Trump and his advisers have discussed a preventative “bloody nose” strike on North Korea, alarming experts who warn that this could trigger catastrophic retaliation, especially on South Korea.

U.S. officials have said the debate on military action has lost some momentum as a result of the intra-Korean talks, which Trump has called a “good thing” and credited to his tough stance.

Joseph Yun, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea, said on Thursday he did not think the administration was close to triggering military action.

The White House said on Friday that Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke by telephone and discussed an expanded missile defense system and other efforts to boost Japan’s defenses amid the tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Trump also spoke to South Korean President Moon Jae-in about human rights in North Korea and trade between the United States and South Korea, the White House said.

North Korea also criticized U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s pending visit to the Olympics, accusing Washington of halting improvements in inter-Korean relations.

Last month, a White House official said Pence planned to use his attendance to try to counter Kim Jong Un’s efforts to “hijack” the games with a propaganda campaign.

North Korea has agreed with South Korea to send a 230-strong cheering squad to the Winter Olympics, as well as an orchestra and taekwondo performance team.

A joint cultural performance planned in a North Korean mountain resort was called off this week by Pyongyang, which blamed South Korean media for encouraging “insulting” public sentiment regarding the North.

Twenty-two North Korean athletes will compete in the Olympics, including 12 who will play in a unified women’s ice hockey team. The other 10, including a figure skating pair, arrived in South Korea on Thursday.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and James Dalgleish)

North Korea cancels visit to prepare for Olympic performance in South Korea

Women watch the Olympic torch relay under a giant banner depicting the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics mascot Soohorang, in Seoul, South Korea, January 13, 2018.

(Reuters) – North Korea has cancelled a visit by a delegation to South Korea to prepare for a trip by an art troupe during next month’s Winter Olympics, Seoul’s Unification Ministry was quoted as saying by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency on Friday.

The North did not give a reason for the cancellation, Yonhap quoted the ministry as saying.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Alison Williams)

Plan for joint Olympics team with North gets icy reception in South Korea

Women watch the Olympic torch relay under a giant banner depicting the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics mascot Soohorang, in Seoul, South Korea, January 13, 2018.

By Heekyong Yang and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – While Seoul forges ahead with plans to use the upcoming Winter Olympics to showcase inter-Korean unity, some South Korean athletes are “furious” at proposals to form joint teams with North Koreans, highlighting a broader lack of enthusiasm for some of the government’s peace-making plans.

Officials from both countries are still engaged in talks over exactly how the North will participate in next month’s games in Pyeongchang. But the backlash may trip up Seoul’s plans to use the sporting event to improve bilateral ties after a year of high tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

South Korea’s women’s ice hockey team was the first to be singled out for possible integration with North Koreans, with Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan saying the government would ask Olympic organizers to expand the team’s roster from 23 to more than 30.

That came as a shock to team members, who had just returned to South Korea last Friday after training in the United States for the past three weeks, a senior official with the Korea Ice Hockey Association said.

“They were just furious and found the idea absurd,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “We are utterly speechless that the government just picked us out of blue and asked us to play with total strangers at the Olympics.”

The proposal has also sparked an outcry from thousands of South Koreans, who have signed online petitions asking the presidential Blue House to drop the idea.

“I cannot help but think the government is abusing its power to make political gains from the Olympics,” said one comment on the petition. “Taking roster spots from South Korean athletes who have put so much effort for the Olympics – a dream stage for all South Korean athletes – for the North Koreans is not fair at all.”

More than 70 percent of South Koreans oppose forming a joint team with the North, according to a Jan. 11 survey released by the office of the South’s National Assembly Speaker and television network SBS. More than 80 percent, however, said they welcomed the North’s participation in general.

A spokesmen for the Blue House referred questions to the ministries involved in the talks with North Korea.

The sports ministry said it was discussing the matter with the International Olympic Committee to “minimize any disadvantage” for the South Korean team.

“We will also be taking the public opinion into consideration prior to making the final decision,” a ministry official told Reuters. The unification ministry declined to comment.

INTERNAL DIVISION

The public backlash underscores how North Korea diplomacy, which has often come in the form of one-sided assistance from Seoul, remains a source of bitter division and contention within South Korea. The two countries are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in truce, not a peace treaty.

Liberal President Moon Jae-in wants to revive ties with North Korea that froze under nearly a decade of conservative rule in the South. His administration has proposed the two Koreas make a show of unity at the Games, marching together at the opening and closing ceremonies and competing together as one nation.

But South Korea’s ice hockey association hasn’t heard much from the politicians spearheading those plans, other than being told by the sports ministry to “get prepared,” the senior official said.

“Honestly, we have no idea what’s going on. Frankly, I do not know what they meant by to ‘get prepared’ since we do not have any channels to talk to the North Korean team,” the official said.

Among the issues to be worked out are the roster, game strategies and the appointment of a head coach to lead the joint team.

“None of these crucial and basic issues have been discussed at all. And the South Korean team’s first tournament in the Olympics is only three weeks away,” the official said. “Can you believe this? None of this makes any sense.”

The association did not make athletes available for interviews, saying they were in the final round of training before their first game on Feb. 10.

Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan has defended the proposal for a joint ice hockey team, arguing that by expanding the roster, no South Korean athletes would be left out.

South Korea will have the “coaching rights” for the team as well, he said during a parliamentary session on Monday, and the unified team would not “hurt South Korean athletes and their team capability.”

PUBLIC SKEPTICISM

Choi Moon-soon, governor of Gangwon province, where the games will be held, said the negative public views may be the result of frigid inter-Korean relations under previous conservative administrations. But he added that public opinion would change once North Korea attended the games.

“The two Koreas have marched at nine games so far, and the world gave its blessing to the two Koreas,” Choi said. “There were few people who opposed that.”

But Kim Dae, a 26-year-old engineer in Seoul, said there was no clear point in having a unified team.

“I do not understand what this united team is for. It almost feels like two different teams are forced to play together at the Olympics,” Kim said. “Who’s benefiting from this joint team anyway?”

A separate Jan. 8 poll by Realmeter found that 54 percent of South Koreans supported Seoul’s plans to provide accommodation and other expenses needed for the stay of the North Korean delegation during the games, while 41 percent opposed it.

Conservative lawmakers questioned whether the potential problems were worth the political gains.

“Many people worry that North Korea is taking advantage of the Pyeongchang Olympics to publicize its political propaganda,” parliament member Kim Ki-sun said on Monday. “How long did the peace last after the two Koreas marched together in past games?”

(Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Gerry Doyle)

North, South Korea agree to resolve issues through dialogue

South and North Korean delegations attend their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, January 9, 2018.

By Christine Kim and Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korea on Tuesday agreed on negotiations to resolve problems and military talks aimed at averting accidental conflict, after their first official dialogue in more than two years, as Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program fuels tension.

In a joint statement after the 11-hour talks, the North pledged to send a large delegation to next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South, but made a ‘strong complaint’ after Seoul proposed talks to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

South Korea asked its neighbor to halt hostile acts that stoke tension on the peninsula, and in return, the North agreed that peace should be guaranteed in the region, the South’s unification ministry said in a separate statement.

The talks had been closely watched by world leaders keen for any sign of a reduction in tension, as fears grow over the North’s missile launches and development of nuclear weapons, in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Earlier on Tuesday, Seoul said it was prepared to lift some sanctions temporarily so North Korean officials could visit the South for the Games. The North said its delegation would comprise athletes, high-ranking officials, a cheering squad, art performers as well as reporters and spectators.

South Korea has unilaterally banned several North Korean officials from entry in response to Pyongyang’s ramped-up missile and nuclear tests, held despite international pressure.

However, some South Korean officials have said they see the Olympics as a possible opportunity for easing tension.

Foreign ministry spokesman Roh Kyu-deok said Seoul would consider whether it needed to take “prior steps”, together with the U.N. Security Council and other relevant countries, to help the North Koreans visit for the Olympics.

Working talks will be held soon to work out the details of bringing the North Koreans to the Olympics, the statement said, with the exact schedule to be decided via documented exchanges.

 

FAMILY REUNION

At Tuesday’s talks, the first since December 2015, Seoul proposed inter-Korean military discussions to reduce tension on the peninsula and a reunion of family members in time for February’s Lunar New Year holiday, but the joint statement made no mention of the reunions.

The North has finished technical work to restore a military hotline with South Korea, Seoul said, with normal communications set to resume on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear what information would be transferred along the hotline.

The North cut communications in February 2016, following the South’s decision to shut down a jointly run industrial park in the North.

North Korea also responded ‘positively’ to the South’s proposal for athletes from both sides to march together at the Games’ opening ceremony and other joint activities during the Winter Olympics, Seoul said.

Athletes of the two sides have not paraded together at international sports events since the 2007 Asian Winter Games in China, after relations chilled under nearly a decade of conservative rule in the South.

The United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, initially responded coolly to the idea of inter-Korean meetings, but U.S. President Donald Trump later called them “a good thing”.

Trump has said he would like to see talks go beyond the Olympics. “At the appropriate time, we’ll get involved,” he said.

On Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry said it was happy to see talks between North and South Korea and welcomed all positive steps. Russia echoed the sentiment, with a Kremlin spokesman saying, “This is exactly the kind of dialogue that we said was necessary.”

(Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim and Josh Smith in SEOUL and David Brunnstrom, Jim Oliphant and Steve Holland in WASHINGTON, Writing by Soyoung Kim, Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

South Korea says delay in military drills aimed only at ensuring peaceful Olympics

South Korean and U.S. Marines take part in a winter military drill in Pyeongchang, South Korea, December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean officials said on Wednesday a proposed delay in military drills with the United States was aimed at ensuring a peaceful 2018 Winter Olympics, not ending the North Korean missile crisis, as relations with China suffered new setbacks.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is seeking to soothe relations with North Korea, which is pursuing nuclear and missile programmes in defiance of U.N. sanctions, and with China, the North’s lone major ally, before the Games begin in South Korea in February.

China, which hosted years of on-again-off-again six-party talks to try to end the North Korea standoff, resumed some blocks on group tours to South Korea, industry sources said, and rebuked Seoul for firing warning shots at Chinese fishing boats

On Tuesday, Moon, who visited China last week, said he had proposed postponing major military drills with the United States until after the Games, a move his office said was designed to reassure athletes and spectators.

“This is confined to our efforts to host a peaceful Olympics,” an official from the presidential Blue House said. “We are only talking about the exercises which are supposed to take place during the Olympics and Paralympics.”

North Korea sees the regular joint exercises as preparation for war, while China is still angry about the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system, commonly known as THAAD, by South Korea, whose powerful radar it fears could see deep inside its territory.

The South argues it needs THAAD to guard against the threat posed by North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, Japan and the United States.

For a graphic on North Korea’s missile launches, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2j2S5T3

The proposed delay in drills was discussed during a summit last week between Moon and Chinese President Xi Jinping, after the proposal had already been submitted to the Americans, the Blue House official said.

China and Russia have proposed a “freeze for freeze” arrangement under which North Korea would stop its nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a halt to the exercises. However, the official denied the proposed delay had anything to do with the freeze idea.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Ottawa on Tuesday he was unaware of any plans to “alter longstanding and scheduled and regular military exercises”.

North Korea has stepped up its missile and nuclear tests at an unprecedented rate this year, and any new provocation from the North would “inevitably have an impact” on the exercises, the Blue House official said.

“It is a display of the president’s strong message that North Korea must not conduct any provocation (during the Olympics),” the official told reporters.

South Korean and U.S. Marines take part in a winter military drill in Pyeongchang, South Korea, December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

South Korean and U.S. Marines take part in a winter military drill in Pyeongchang, South Korea, December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

“BIOLOGICAL EXPERIMENTS”

Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing an unidentified person connected to South Korean intelligence, that North Korea was conducting biological experiments to test the possibility of loading anthrax-laden warheads on its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Asahi report said the U.S. government was aware of the tests, which were meant to ascertain whether the anthrax bacteria could survive the high temperatures that occur during warheads’ re-entry from space.

Reuters was unable to verify the report independently.

In a statement released by state media, North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called reports it was developing biological weapons “nonsense” designed to provoke nuclear war.

The United States has given China a draft resolution for tougher U.N. sanctions on North Korea and is hoping for a quick vote on it by the U.N. Security Council, a Western diplomat said on Tuesday, however Beijing has yet to sign on.

When asked about the U.S. resolution at a press briefing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying would only say that China always takes a responsible and constructive attitude towards Security Council talks on North Korea.

The United States has also called on the Security Council to blacklist 10 ships for circumventing sanctions on North Korea. Hua said China had received the proposal from the United States.

WARNING SHOTS

China has resumed at least some restrictions on group tours into the South, South Korea’s inbound travel agency said. The restrictions were first in place last year as part of China’s retaliation over THAAD deployment.

“I was told from my boss this morning that our Chinese partners (based in Beijing and Shandong) said they won’t send group tourists to South Korea as of January,” the official from Naeil Tour Agency told Reuters by phone.

One source in China said the reason for reinstating the ban was to rein in overly aggressive tour operators who had been rolling out package deals to South Korea too quickly in the eyes of authorities.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua told reporters she had not heard of a tourism ban, but she reiterated that Moon’s visit to Beijing was successful and that China has an open attitude towards exchanges and cooperation in all areas.

Beijing has never officially confirmed restrictions on tourism.

Three representatives at Beijing travel agencies told Reuters that they were not currently organising group tours to South Korea. One confirmed that the tourism administration had issued the notice, while a third said: “At the moment we have no group trips to South Korea.”

A travel agency in the northern province of Shandong also said it could not organise group trips. Three others said they could, but with restrictions such as on the number of people.

South Korea’s coast guard said on Wednesday it had fired around 250 warning shots on Tuesday to chase away a fleet of 44 Chinese boats fortified with iron bars and steel mesh that were fishing illegally in South Korean waters.

“The Chinese fishing boats sought to swarm around and collide with our patrol ship, ignoring the broadcast warnings,” the coast guard said in a statement.

China, which has in the past lodged diplomatic protests to South Korea over the use of force by its coast guard, expressed “serious concern” about the latest clash.

(For a graphic on rocket science, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2t6WEPL)

(Reporting by Dahee Kim, Hyonhee Shin, Heekyong Yang and Yuna Park in SEOUL, Tim Kelly in TOKYO, Adam Jourdan in SHANGHAI, and Pei Li, Gao Liangping and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)