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Concerns linger as cause of e-government outage remains unclear

Nov. 20, 2023 - 17:08 By Lee Jung-joo
A person visits a local community service center in Jongno-gu, central Seoul to issue government documents on Monday, the day after Saeol and Government 24 resumed service after a four-day outage. (Yonhap)

The computer network used by local government offices across South Korea, together with the platform used by residents to interact with the government and issue government documents are back running after a four-day outage, according to the Ministry of Interior and Safety on Monday.

However, local tech experts raised concerns over the risk of another error potentially affecting e-government networks and services, pointing out that the cause of the failure over the weekend remains unclear.

Kim Myuhng-joo, a professor in Seoul Women’s University’s Department of Software Convergence, said it is hard to believe that a network system glitch might have been the only cause behind the breakdown.

“It’s hard to believe that it could take so long to recover from a network malfunction,” Kim told The Korea Herald. “It shouldn’t take four days to replace the L4 switch with a new switch.”

Kim added that if there had been multiple L4 switches installed to distribute signals between servers, such a delay would not have been caused in the first place.

Lim Jong-in, a professor in Korea University’s Department of Cyber Defense, also criticized the ministry for not having a proper backup system in place to test updates before pushing them onto the actual server.

“Most private companies have a separate server system on the side to test updates before launching them on the actual server in order to test for glitches like this,” Lim said. “The fact that they didn’t have a separate server to test for glitches nor a backup server that could run if the main server were to malfunction is problematic.”

Other government-run systems have also faced criticism in the past for being released as part of the government’s digitalization policies, like the National Fire Agency’s Emergency Rescue Standard System. While several issues have been raised about this system since its release in the 2000s, little has been fixed, reportedly due to budgetary issues.

“The Ministry of Interior and Safety should work to clearly identify the cause behind the malfunction while closely monitoring the system,” Kim said. “The ministry should also create a set of preventive measures based on lessons learned over the past four days, so that the system won’t be affected in the long run.”