By Kim Tong-hyung
Exposed as defenseless against the powerful Internet attack that crippled scores of South Korean computers in July, the government has been considering more ways to strengthen the online security requirements for both individuals and companies.
However, it has now been revealed that the plans include blocking the Internet access of computer users failing to equip their devices with proper security programs, triggering a debate about whether policymakers are going over-the-top.
Officials at the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), the country's broadcasting and telecommunications regulator, and the Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA) confirmed they are planning to have Internet service providers, such as KT, monitor the security levels of the computers and other devices used by their customers.
The companies will limit or cut the Internet connectivity of users with less-than-required software protection, thus forcing them to upgrade their existing programs or download new ones.
The rules will be effective for personal computers, network servers and mobile devices such as ``smart'' phones, government officials said.
Government organizations, schools, private companies and ``PC bangs,'' or computer gaming centers, will be mandated to install a required level of security programs on their computers and update them when needed.
The KCC will also be granted the rights to suspend the business of software companies that fail to correct the vulnerabilities of their security programs after being ordered to do so by authorities.
``The distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and other new forms of cyber attacks are now being increasingly conducted through the computers used by individuals. However, the security requirements stated in the current telecommunications law is more focused on protecting networks,'' said an official from KCC's network policy bureau.
``We need a legal framework to protect individual online users from cyber attacks like DDoS. The new law is meant to give us the means.''
The new rules will also grant government authorities the power to shut down ``zombie'' PCs, or computers infected with malicious software and programmed to spread the cyber attacks. KCC authorities, with the consent of the computer's owner, could inspect the device to track the routes of the cyber attack.
A DDoS attack occurs when multiple systems are flooded with traffic that overwhelms their bandwidth or resources. More than 80,000 Korean computers were affected by the series of DDoS attacks that started on July 7.
The malicious software used in the recent attacks were mostly "botnets," or software robots that run autonomously to initiate the DDoS attacks. The botnets compromise the infected computers and are manipulated by the command and control (C&C) system set up by the hackers.
Although the DDoS attacks exposed the country's poor online security standards, critics argue that the KCC measures currently discussed are excessive and may compromise liberty in Internet usage.
An official from a telecommunications company, who preferred not to be named, pointed out that it would be difficult for policymakers to decide on a specific threshold to determine when to cut the Internet access of ill-prepared computer users and when not.
``Cyber attacks, big or small, are happening all the time. It would be interesting to see if the government could come up with standards to define the degree of seriousness of the attacks, and thus determine when the blocking of individual computers would be necessary,'' said the industry official.