South Korean Internet Provider KT Infects Users’ Computers with Malware to Discourage Torrenting, Faces Legal Backlash

KT Corporation, one of South Korea’s largest internet service providers, has come under fire for deliberately infecting over 600,000 users’ computers with malware in an attempt to curb torrenting activities. The revelation, stemming from an investigative report by local news outlet JTBC, has sparked widespread outrage and legal challenges against the company.

In May 2020, Webhard, a South Korean cloud storage provider, was inundated with complaints from customers regarding inexplicable glitches and malfunctions. Upon investigation, the company discovered that its Grid service, which utilizes the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol, had been compromised, leading to suspicions of a cyberattack.

However, further investigation revealed that all affected users shared a common internet service provider: KT Corporation. The malware, which had infiltrated the users’ computers, created bizarre folders, rendered files invisible, disabled the Webhard program, and in some instances, even caused entire PCs to crash.

Authorities, alerted to the situation, launched an investigation and traced the malicious activity to a KT-owned data center south of Seoul. According to officials, KT’s actions could potentially violate South Korean laws, including the Communications Secrecy Protection Act and the Information and Communications Network Act.

To date, 13 individuals have been identified and charged in connection with the incident. The investigation remains ongoing.

KT has acknowledged that it directly implanted the malware onto the computers of customers using Webhard Grid, claiming that the service itself was malicious and that the company had “no choice but to take control of it,” as reported by JTBC.

However, the primary criticism centers not on Webhard’s integration of the BitTorrent protocol into its service but on KT’s unauthorized installation of malware on its customers’ devices without their consent.

Prior to this incident, Webhard and KT had been embroiled in a contentious dispute over the Grid service. Webhard maintains that it saves billions of Korean won by transitioning users to peer-to-peer data storage and transmission services, while KT asserts that the service has overloaded its networks.

The companies presented their arguments in court, where a ruling sided with KT, determining that Webhard had failed to pay the ISP for deploying its peer-to-peer system and had neglected to adequately inform users about its operation.

KT’s actions have drawn fierce criticism from both the public and legal experts, raising concerns about the company’s disregard for user privacy and its questionable methods of enforcing its policies. The incident serves as a stark reminder of the potential dangers posed by overzealous anti-piracy measures and the importance of safeguarding user trust in the digital realm.

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