Nate, Cyworld Security Breach Puts Private Info of 35 Million at Risk

The Korean Communications Commission (KCC) announced today that hackers had broken into Nate and Cyworld, potentially exposing the personal details of some 35 million members of the two sites.

Bloter reports that using an IP in China, hackers illegally accessed the names, IDs, emails, phone numbers, social security numbers and passwords of some 35 million accounts held on the Nate portal and Cyworld social network site. SK Communications, the parent company of the two sites, confirmed the breach with the KCC today and said they had also reported it to the police. In order to prevent further attacks, the company said it was also strengthening its system monitoring and pushing people to change their passwords.

In order to minimise the risk to the huge numbers of Koreans who have Nate and/or Cyworld accounts, the KCC is trying to spread news of the breach as quickly as possible, and has added a pop-up window on Nate and Cyworld that lets users check whether their information is safe.

To head off further problems, the KCC is also urging internet users to change their passwords not just on the affected sites, but in any other online accounts, too. They are also warning Koreans to be especially vigilant against phone “phishing” scams in the weeks ahead.

To try and find out exactly what happened, Bloter says the KCC has set up a research group, and will also be carrying out a thorough investigation to see if SK Comms was negligent or did anything illegal.

The ramifications of such a massive breach are likely to play out for quite some time — but a short-term issue is renewed anger at the Real Name system, which requires Koreans to submit their  real names and social security numbers when leaving comments on any sites that attract more than 100,000 people per day. The law means that besides getting just user names and passwords, the hackers were potentially able to access users social security numbers as well.

More on this story here.

Survey Reveals Changing Patterns of Smartphone Use in Korea

The Korea Communication Commission (KCC) has released one of its periodical insights into the habits of Korea’s smartphone users, and Bloter is all over it. Among its findings: females now outnumber males among new smartphone users, more than three quarters of users have taken advantage of instant messenger services, and almost 80 percent of users have downloaded an app in the past month.

The survey took place between May 29 and June 7 of this year, and covered 4,000 smartphone users aged between 12 and 59. Dealing with four areas — smartphone use, use of apps, payment deals and use of instant messenger services — the survey was the third in a series beginning in July last year, allowing researchers to track how smartphone trends have been changing over the last 12 months. The second survey took place in January of this year.

 

 

This first graph shows that 47.4 percent of current smartphone users bought their handset in the last six months. Just 8.7 percent said they’d owned one for a year or more.

 

 

 

These three charts show the changing male to female ratios for new owners of smartphones, defined as people who’d bought their handset in the last six months. Clearly, women are becoming an ever-more important demographic in the smartphone market.

 

When asked what the most important factor was when deciding which smartphone to buy, 60.7 percent of the respondents said “design and size,” 50.9 percent said “screen size and picture quality,” 45.1 percent replied “service system,” and 43.8 percent said “price of the handset.”

Regarding what drove them to buy a smartphone in the first place, 64.3 percent said, “Because I want to install and use different types of software,” 52.1 percent said,” Because I want to use the internet at any time,” and 45.6 percent cited curiosity about using new services or technology. At 29.5 percent was, “Because people around me are using one,” whereas just 15.2 percent cited academic study or work as their main reason for buying a smartphone.

Asked what they use their smartphone for most, the highest number, 88 percent, said it was to use the search function or just regular web surfing. In the previous survey, Bloter says, the most common response was “managing my calendar and itinerary,” showing that smartphones have become a pivotal platform for random looks around the internet.

Some 91.2 percent of respondents said they use the internet on their smartphones, of whom 87.3 percent said they access it more than once a day. This marks a rise of around 16 percent over the first two surveys, with the average amount of time spent online on smartphones — at 75.7 minutes —  also representing an increase of around 18 minutes over the survey carried out in January of this year.

As for other key uses of their smartphones, respondents said for the alarm and clock (80.5 percent), for chatting and messenger (79.6 percent), managing calendar and itinerary (78.2 percent), games (70.4 percent) and maps (70.4 percent).

As the above graphic shows, app downloads have also risen sharply among smartphone users. Over the last 12 months, the proportion of smartphone users who downloaded an app in the last month has risen from 66 percent to 76.6 percent. In addition, some 38 percent of those spent an average of 5,000 won per month on apps.

Unsurprisingly (unless it seems on the low side), 76.9 percent of respondents said they had used a mobile instant messenger service. Of those, 41 percent said they had sent fewer text messages as a result. In addition, seven in 10 smartphone owners said they had used a VoiP service, of whom 13.9 percent said it had led to them making fewer calls.

Some 87.1 percent of respondents said they has used social networking sites on their smarpthones, with the average rate of daily use running to an impressive 1.9 hours. Of the social media fans, most (72.7 percent) said they used “communities” (couldn’t quite work out what this means — cafes and/or Facebook, perhaps?), 66.4 percent used microblogs (Twitter et al), and 59.4 percent said they used “mini hompis” on the still hugely popular Cyworld service.

Regarding payment plans, 93.3 percent said they were on a flat-rate, limited data plan, up 18 percent from May 2010. Also, whereas the most common (40.4 percent) payment plan cost 35,000 won in the first survey and 45,000 in the second survey (34.4 percent), the majority of respondents this time (44.4 percent) said they were forking out 55,000 won for their payment plans.

UPDATE: A very informative comment from Simon Kim over on Google+, who says this about the “communities” Koreans are using on their smartphones:

It means like ‘Cafe’ in Naver or Daum, ‘Club’ in Nate. (Not Facebook, honestly) – I guess ‘Communities’ means like something based on ‘membership’ system. (Join-or-Quit) … Korean’s online community culture is very unique than any other nations. I’ve never seen like cafe or club on websites based on US or Europe. Before smartphones came up in public, online shopping and these kinds of ‘online group network’ have much developed (from housewives to mountain climbing club). I’m pretty sure this patterns were smoothly injected Korean’s smartphone using patterns as well. Facebook is definitely ascending also. (Even though typical platforms like Cyworld is pretty much overwhelming in this section.)

I knew that online “cafes” were still very popular in Korea, but I hadn’t realised they are the dominant form of social networking on smartphones, according to Simon. Worth a post of its own, if someone fancies doing the research :)

Korea Takes Aim at IE6 — Portals to End Support by January?

Ice the champagne, break out the party poppers, unwrap the hors d’oeuvres because — yes! — Korea is declaring war on Internet Explorer 6.

From July 14 until the end of the month, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) is working with Naver, Daum, Microsoft, the Korea Internet Security Agency and others on the snappily named “Old Browser (Internet Explorer 6) Upgrade and Multi-Browser Use” campaign. As the name suggests, the campaign will be focused on getting Korean individuals and businesses to abandon the now 10-year-old browser in favour of a newer version of Explorer, or even — woah! — a different browser altogether.

The ultimate aim of the campaign is to have Korea’s biggest portals discontinue support for IE6 by January of next year.

As of this June, according to figures from Statcounter.com, 18 percent of Korean netizens are still using IE6, compared with a global rate of just 4 percent. In addition, some 93 percent of Korea’s internet population uses some form of Internet Explorer, compared with 44 percent globally.

As ZDNet points out, there are numerous problems with this aged, creaking browser, which have already led global behemoths such as Google and YouTube to stop supporting it. Besides not offering newer fonts, IE6 doesn’t automatically update security patches, leaving computers highly vulnerable to viruses and use as “zombies” in denial-of-service attacks. In addition, most web developers no longer use IE6, making it difficult, expensive and time-consuming to maintain services and sites optimised for use on the browser.

To encourage Koreans to abandon IE6 in favour of the likes of  IE9, Chrome or Firefox, the KCC has put together a special page on the KISA website explaining how to switch to a new browser and the benefits of doing so. Korea’s main portals are helping with the effort, with pages of their own explaining the changes.

With many businesses in Korea still stuck in IE6 purgatory, the KCC is busy promoting the benefits of switching browser to them as well. The Commission expects that by reducing IE6 use to 10 percent nationwide, businesses could save up to 30 percent in development costs, and a further 15-20 percent in development costs of user interfaces.

Keeping up the astoundingly good news, the KCC said it also plans to continue its push to support replacement technologies for the widely loathed Active X, and educate the public in the benefits of alternatives.

While this is all great to hear, longtime internet users here might believe all this when they see it, not least when beauties like this are still on offer at the biggest supermarkets in the land (HT to @holterbarbour).

UPDATE: Evan Ramstad takes up this story over on his WSJ blog. One enlightening comment reads:

ActiveX is not a technique for encryption. It is actually an outdated framework for running plugins/applications in Internet Explorer, highly vulnerable to all kinds of security attacks. To the best of my knowledge, Korea’s domestic encryption technology, called SEED, was implemented by means of ActiveX, making most other Korean Web applications also dependent on Microsoft’s ActiveX technology, and hence on Internet Explorer.

Blogger Blasts Naver, Urges Koreans to Go Google

A new post from a vigilant Korean blogger has once again focused attention on alleged sharp practices by Naver, and other Korean portals, regarding their search results. Worse for domestic portals, the post has started a Twitter firestorm, with a growing number of Korean netizens urging their countryfolk to abandon Naver in favour of Google.

As the Newsface piece points out, a major recent example concerned Shin Jeong-ah, the shamed former Dongguk University art professor who was found to have lied about her academic credentials. In her autobiography, Shin claimed that “C”, a former journalist at the Chosun Ilbo and later a member of the National Assembly, had sexually harassed her in a taxi.

Articles about the incident surged up search rankings until said assemblyman, claiming that the story was defamatory, demanded that Naver remove the results. However, Daum, Naver’s biggest domestic rival, left its results as they were. In addition, results relating to former prime minister Chung Un-chan, who Shin accused in her book of “untoward” behaviour, likewise remained untouched. This, the article says, demonstrated to netizens that Naver was indeed suppressing certain results, but not necessarily in a fair or even-handed manner.

For his part, Kim In-seong, the blogger behind the post, detailed a long and detailed charge sheet against Naver.

First, in accusations also made elsewhere, he says that in order to drive up profit through greater traffic to its own sites, Naver gives preference in searches to illegal reproductions of posts and articles on Naver-affiliated sites, rather than directing users to their original source. Also, he claims…

Domestic portals only care about profit, so they concentrate solely on real-time results of what people are looking at now. This means there is no great diversity in the results, and the overall quality of the search gradually declines. Of course, you have to be able to manipulate real-time search results in order to delete sexual words or other illegal terms, but Naver is choosing to remove certain political terms or search terms that are unfavourable to people in power.

A picture alleging to show manipulation of search results during the protests against US beef in 2008. On the left, the list is topped by "Impeachment," "Lee Myung-bak" and "Lee Myung-bak's Cyworld Page." On the right, hey presto, all references to President Lee have gone, to be replaced at No. 1 by the Beastie Boys.

Kim goes on to claim that Naver also manipulates its auto-complete function. To illustrate his point, Kim brings up the case of Han Myeong-sook, the left-wing former prime minister, during recent regional elections.

The screenshot above shows what Kim claims are the results of an auto search before and after the election. At top, entering the first several characters of Han’s name in Korean (“한ㅁ,” the rough equivalent of entering “Han M”) yields not a single reference to Han in the top 13 results. By contrast, the auto-search at the bottom, done immediately after the election, shows up Han Myeong-sook as No. 1, followed by her kids and husband at numbers 4 and 5. In addition, prior to the election, typing as far as “한명ㅅ” (equivalent to “Han Myeong-s”) does produce a Han Myeong-sook, but not, apparently, the Han Myeong-sook, who is nowhere to be seen on the list.

Kim opines that the manipulation of search results by domestic portals “distorts the will of the people,” slants the internet in favour of the powerful and violates the freedom of the press. Continuing, he says:

Foreign [internet] services observing international norms have been unable to enter Korea because of domestic regulations. Throughout that time, portals have been siding with the powerful and manipulating mainstream opinion in return for protection of the market. In order to make Korean sites trusted around the world … users have to start looking for and using sites that play by the rules, even if that means using foreign services.

Kim bemoans the fact that while foreign search engines and services often support multiple languages, Naver often can’t even find text from famous foreign tech sites written in English. He also says that while Korean portals would like to see their search engines installed as the default search on Android phones, this would be “the worst decision” for Korea’s internet environment and even the future of the portals themselves.

Unsurprisingly, Kim’s post has spread like wildfire over Twitter, with many netizens voicing support for his plea for Koreans to switch to other search engines.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/chaeyoon_H/status/90976832870035456″]

I approve of the opinion that we should start using Google search as a form of protest against Naver, which looks out for the powerful. People will say, “This will just fill the bellies of foreign companies,” or, “They’re all just businesses,” but we can always exercise checks and balances through our strategic choices. Between us the important thing is not “patriotic justice,” it’s “humane righteousness.”

According to the Newsface piece, another Tweet read (though I can’t find the link, unfortunately):

After reading what this guy wrote, I too started using Google. After using it for a while, I really got the feeling that Naver’s search is stuck in a quagmire. If you’re a Korean who’s been trapped in Explorer and Naver, you should really read what he wrote.

After this most thorough of fiskings, I should add that I and many people I know use Naver all the time, because it appears to offer the best results for Korea-related information, news, films, restaurants and so on (bowing to competition, it even started including non-Naver-hosted blogs in its search results). In addition, as I noted in a previous post, Naver rebutted claims about its auto-search by saying that it automatically excludes terms that have been entered incorrectly numerous times — although this wouldn’t explain why the term suddenly works again after regional elections are completed.

This article, fascinating as it was, didn’t offer much by way of balance. So, if anyone wants to defend Naver or challenge what Kim wrote, I’d be delighted to hear about it in the comments.

UPDATE: Wouldn’t you know, on one post that may actually get a few responses, the comments are down! If you feel sufficiently moved to reply, however, you can do so on the Footman’s Frothings Facebook page (please “like” the page while you’re at it, too!). Working again, but please feel free to “like” the Facebook page anyway,

Petloves.me Presents Social Media for your Pooch

Having perhaps tired of the cutthroat competition for human users, one new Korean social media site is going for a largely untapped demographic — household pets.

Launching in Beta at the end of last month, Petloves.me replaces human profiles with those of dogs and cats (and, presumably, any other type of pet). Though the service doesn’t, sadly, allow the beasts to use the service themselves, owners can create a profile for their pet — including breed, age and sex — and then communicate on its behalf in the comments thread below. If visitors approve, they can click on the Yeppeoyo! (“It’s pretty!”) button and leave a message.

pet loves me, animals, social media, korea

Kim Tae-yeon, the boss of Petloves.me creator User Story Lab, said:

After analysing Tweets on Tweetmix, we discovered that there was an awful lot of chatter about dogs. People were producing a lot of information about their pet dogs, so we thought there would be a lot of demand for a fun social media service where people [with similar interests] could gather.

The site is very social-media friendly, allowing users to regale their followers on Facebook, Twitter and me2DAY with constant status updates for their pets. Though the service currently only lets user post simple profiles of their pets, from the 25th of this month, they will also, apparently, be able to have full, real-time homepages and feeds a la Facebook and Twitter.

Even more impressively, Petloves.me will soon have its very own location-based service, which —  instead of “checking in” — will allow the pets to “mark their territory” every time they visit somewhere. When they do this, the app will inform users who else is walking their pet nearby and how many people in the vicinity have a beast of the same breed. Users will be able to swap pet talk via the LBS, with a list of places the pet has visited  also added to its profile.

In case you’re wondering, this is certainly not the first attempt at social networking for pets. A host of comedy Twitter accounts for animals has drawn in hundreds of thousands of followers (in some cases, more than news networks), and as far back as 2009, some bright spark in the US started a social network for pets called Cute as Hell (since renamed Cuteness.com).

From what I can gather, Cuteness.com failed to really catch on in the States. But with its mix of tech, cutesy and social networking, might the trick find a readier audience over here?

UPDATE: I might have known that my animal-worshipping homeland would be a world leader in pet social media. According to this Telegraph story, one in 10 UK pets has its own Facebook page.

And while we’re on the topic of new media moggies, here’s YouTube superstar Maru:

UPDATE 2: Footman’s Frothings gets some love from the pet lovers…

Thanks, Morning and Night (?) !

Blaming Batteries, BlackBerry Delays Kakao Talk Release AGAIN

The ongoing saga of the BlackBerry version of Kakao Talk took yet another twist late last week, as BlackBerry announced it was postponing the roll-out of its test version, originally scheduled to run for 10 days from June 27th.

A BlackBerry battery recovers from a run-in with Kakao Talk

The reason for the delay this time, BlackBerry said, was that when the company’s staff ran the app internally, it resulted in an abnormally high drag on the batteries.

Though the company has yet to say how the latest hold-up will affect plans for the official release of the app, it seems certain that it too will be delayed. Had the dummy run been successful, the Kakao Talk app was slated for release on BlackBerries at the beginning of this month.

A company spokesperson said:

Although keeping promises to our customers is paramount, we think that if there’s a chance of causing inconvenience to users, the right thing to do is apologise and ask for their understanding. We don’t yet have a confirmed schedule for the test version, but we are well aware that our customers have been waiting a long time for this, so we will get it going as soon as we possibly can.

According to ZDNet, the response from BlackBerry users in Korea has been mixed, with some gnashing their teeth in dismay, but others apparently reassured that a complete, glitch-free version of Kakao Talk should soon be available.

Ticket Monster Denies Living Social Takeover Rumours … But Doubts Remain

Korea’s internet rumour mill has been working overtime in the past day or so, as reports surfaced that Living Social, the world’s second-biggest social commerce site, was lining up a takeover bid for Ticket Monster (T-Mon), the market leader in Korea.

According to reports from E-Today, news that Barclay’s Bank was facilitating a takeover of T-Mon led one stock trading firm to value the company at 300 billion won, or around US$280 million. This would make the 50 percent holding of Daniel Shin, the company’s CEO and biggest shareholder, worth around US$140 million.

Ticket Monster has admitted to contacting both Living Social and Groupon, but says it was only doing so to try and attract investment. Rumours of a takeover, the company added, are “groundless.”

E-Today says that while the vehemence of T-Mon’s denials mean this story may have been no more than misguided speculation, the fact it arose at all (and for the market leader) indicates deeper problems at the heart of social commerce in Korea. Many local social commerce companies, the story says, are motivated by little more than a desire to get bought up by bigger competitors, and overspend wildly on marketing and quick expansion to achieve this.

In addition, the story says, a business model that relies solely on taking 20-30 percent commissions is always going to be vulnerable.

With social commerce companies requiring just a homepage and a few staff to set up, the entry barriers in Korea are very low. This, E-Today says, has led to an explosion of small- and mid-sized social commerce companies, along with “cannibalisation” among the top four, who compete ferociously over the same vendors to offer their daily deals.

Said one “insider”:

The fact this rumour arose at all is a reflection of how tough things are for social commerce companies. There’s an acute need for a satisfactory long-term business model that can remedy the problems of the the ‘commission profit’ sales structure.

UPDATE: For anyone who cares, I corrected some translation errors I made on the first draft, which were pointed out to me by the unfailingly helpful @sunlars

Money Today Lists Top 4 Korean Apps for June

Such, presumably, was the competition in June that Money Today has listed four rather than its usual three top Korean apps for the month of June. In no particular order, they are:

Name: Booooly!

OS: iOS

Developer: Next Apps

Koreans’ love affair with computer games has found a fertile new ground with smartphones, and some of the country’s biggest app successes so far have come from naggingly addictive game apps such as Booooly!

Booooly! offers a twist on the usual match-three game by requiring players to match up at least four Boooolies of the same colour. When assembled in clusters the Boooolies explode and vanish, with extra points awarded for clusters of five or more. There are eight colours in all, which progressively reveal themselves as the player moves up through levels of difficulty.

For all its simplicity, Booooly! is, Money Today says, deceptively strategic. To gain the greatest advantage, you need to be selective in which Boooolies you explode, rather than just engaging in frenzied destruction. In addition, instead of slotting easily into allotted spaces, the Boooolies roll and bounce around, adding another challenge to the mix.

Booooly! has a live social media stream that lets players instantly share their progress with like-minded souls on Facebook and Twitter. An online leader board also enables you to compare your high score with players around the world, adding another impetus to forsake family and friends in pursuit of “match-four” glory.

The graphics are sharp with impressive-looking explosions, and the boooolies themselves display the kind of cutesy features that are so integral to many popular Korean games.

A top 10 hit throughout East Asia, an a top 100 hit worldwide, Booooly! retails for US$0.99 in Apple’s app store.

 

Name: MobiReader Biz+

OS: iOS, Android

Developer: DIOTEK

This fabulously practical app could spell the beginning of the end for business card holders and Rolodexes.

Using the phone’s camera, MobiReader Biz+ snaps biz cards and converts the content into text (which can be edited if there are any errors). If you place the card against a plain background and get all four of its borders in the frame, the app takes the shot automatically, so you don’t even have to press the button.

MobiReader Biz+ records all the contact info on the cards, and lets you flick through them on its virtual business card holder. When you find the one you’re looking for, you can email or call the person just by touching the screen.

Cooler still, integration with Google Maps means the app can plot your course to the address on your chosen business card, while a new augmented reality feature (shown left) can show you who’s in the vicinity. Even better for biz types, the app has a PDF conversion function and Google Docs.

Recognizing Korean and English, and with nine other UI languages, MobiReader Biz+ costs 7,900 won from T-Store and US$9.99 from Apple’s app store.

Name: PokeDrive Pro

OS: Windows Mobile

Developer: Pokevian

 Having made the jump from planes to cars, black boxes have now arrived on smartphones.

In a single video file, PokeDrive Pro records a video of your journey along with info on your location, speed, direction and the time. It can, Money Today says, be used with cars, motorbikes and even bicycles (though it doesn’t explain exactly where you’d need to perch your phone on the bike for the video function to work).

PokeDrive Pro has a strikingly clean interface, with speed, GPS reception and battery capacity displayed on the main screen. The recording kicks in when the app senses impact, but users can also activate recording by touching the speed icon on the main screen.

Among the many functions on the menu are a compass that can tell you your longitude and latitude, along with the direction you’re heading in. It can also calculate your average and highest speeds, while offering contrast control on the main picture, vibration correction and even a picture preview on the camera. Should you actually be involved in an accident, the app can also send out an automatic message to a pre-registered number. To look at the course of your journey, you can also playback any recordings from the app onto your PC.

PokeDrive Pro is available from the Show App Store for 9,900 won.

Name: mapcard2

OS: iOS

Developer: Image Bakery

 The simplest of the four apps, mapcard2 lets you add detailed information — location, captions, memos and the like — to pictures you take while on your hols.

Money Today doesn’t offer too much more info on this app, other than to say it was recommended by a publication in Japan and Skyhook Wireless, a specialist in location-based technology. It is also, according to the headline, a favourite of Korean funnyman Chung Jong-chul, and app recommendations don’t come much higher than that.