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South Korea poised to become No. 4 defense exporter

As exports grew, so did hacking attacks, government data says

A K9 self-propelled howitzer by Hanwha Defense (Hanwha Defense)
A K9 self-propelled howitzer by Hanwha Defense (Hanwha Defense)

South Korea’s defense exports are expected to reach $20 billion this year, bringing it a step closer to becoming the world’s fourth-largest defense exporter, according to an industry report Wednesday.

But at the same time, calls are growing to strengthen defense cybersecurity amid surging hacking attacks in recent years.

The country's defense exports have already reached $10 billion this year, surpassing last year’s annual exports of $7 billion, according to the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade (KIET). The country's average export volume stood at $2 billion to $3 billion in previous years.

Korea was ranked ninth in terms of the global defense export volume in 2021, according to KIET. This year's exports would push Korea up to fourth place, trailing defense powerhouses the US, Russia and France, the report said.

A mega deal with Poland to sell various kinds of weapons including K2 tanks, armored vehicles, jet trainers and light attack aircraft has attributed to the surge in this year's exports, KIET said.

Major players such as Hanwha and Hyundai are close to clinching mega deals within this year.

Hanwha Defense’s next-generation infantry fighting vehicle Redback is being considered as one of the two final candidates for an Australian military project to replace old armored personnel carriers. The Korean firm has already landed a 1 trillion won ($708 million) agreement to export the K9 howitzer to Australia last year.

Korea Aerospace Industries is also seeking to close a deal with Malaysia for its FA-50, supersonic advanced jet trainer and light combat aircraft. Hyundai Rotem last week partnered with a Norwegian defense supplier to sell K2 tanks to Norway.

Separately, government data showed Wednesday that the number of hacking attempts on South Korea’s defense sectors surged at least 70 to 82.5 percent over the past four years, targeting the state-run Defense Acquisition Program Administration and Agency for Defense Development networks.

The majority of 32,646 attacks made from 2018 attempted to steal security-related data on DAPA and ADD networks, such as critical information on the country’s military intranet, weapons system, R&D and production management. Besides, hackers also tried to steal server management authority, make unauthorized access or embed pirated programs.

Industry insiders said such attempts can threaten the local defense industry as well, considering that stolen information carrying research and development status of local weapons system can lead to massive, irretrievable data leakage.

“Such accidents can also tarnish the image and credibility of local defense firms, not to mention the both economic and security damage,” an industry insider told The Korea Herald.

Most firms in the defense sector use two computers, one connected to the internet and the other only connected to the intranet, so the two separated networks can block external hacking attempt.

Last year, Korea Aerospace Industries and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, which builds warships, were exposed to cyberattacks. KAI lost over 1.6 billion won in a business email fraud, while DSME detected hacking attempts on defense or security-related information twice in June and October, respectively.



By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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