Splitting orders blamed for repeated national computer network failures

2023.11.20 11:08:01 | 2023.11.20 18:17:32

[Photo by Lee Seung-hwan]이미지 확대

[Photo by Lee Seung-hwan]

South Korea, reputed to be a digital powerhouse, suffered a two-day outage of its public computer network. This is the third time in the year to date that a state agency’s computers network has failed.

The country’s Ministry of the Interior and Safety said on Sunday that the Saeol administrative network, a system used by civil servants to access government-approved documents, became inaccessible from Friday morning, leading to the suspension of municipal government document services, and that an analysis of the failure revealed a malfunction in the Government Public Key Infrastructure (GPKI) authentication system that is used to access the system.

The National Information Resources Service (NIRS) in Daejeon, South Chungcheong Province, is responsible for managing the servers and network equipment for the Saeol system and the government’s online civil service portal, Government24. The ministry had called in the companies involved in the government computer network system to Daejeon since Friday, but was unable to pinpoint the exact cause, leading to the prolonged outage incident.

The latest outage follows the paralysis of the court computer network in March 2023 and operational errors in the the education administration information system used in schools, known as National Education Information System (NEIS), in June, prompting criticism that the government was letting the problem escalate without making any fundamental improvements, even as incidents of a similar nature occur consecutively.

The information technology (IT) industry blamed the government’s policy of excluding large companies and splitting the public computer network construction order among several companies.

An announcement posted in October in the bidding section of the country’s Nara portal to improve the NIRS’ working environment limited the bidding targets to companies located in Daejeon, where the management agency is based, excluding leading companies in the capital area that have proven their credibility via their experience from the bid. In April, the NIRS also awarded separate contracts to several small and medium-sized companies for replacing old security equipment to reinforce its information protection infrastructure.

“The NIRS system involves different companies for each area such as servers, hardware, networks, security, and applications, and the programs and systems are different for each task,” according to an executive from an IT company that participated in the national data construction project, explaining why it took as long as two days to identify the cause of the latest outage. “The involvement of multiple companies inevitably makes identifying the cause time-consuming.”

“Separate ordering is a longstanding principle of the government,” a government official said. “If we leave all of our projects to large companies for the sake of convenience, all related small and medium-sized companies that are struggling to survive could collapse.”

By Kwon Oh-kyun, Kim Dae-gi, and Yoon Yeon-hae

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