A brief look at North Korea's 28 websites
September 22, 2016 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Two days ago, while automatically maintaining and updating TLDR - A Continuously Updated Historical TLD Records Archive, a "new" country unexpectedly provided public access, when North Korea misconfigured its nameserver. In other words, its limited intranet was opened to the internet, and North Korea's DNS "leak" was archived, recording 9 top-level domains with 28 websites, significantly lower than the previously estimated 1,000 to 5,500 websites in 2014. The internet, as accessed by those North Koreans who have or can use computers, is very small.

Few North Koreans, mostly a handful of high-ranking and trusted government officials, academics, people working in selected industries, and the few tourists, have access to the global internet. For everyone else, there's the national intranet, Kwangmyong, which means "bright." Although Kwangmyong is officially free to use, very few people have access to it, due to the high cost of owning a computer. Even if you can afford one, computer ownership is tightly regulated.

Note: that estimation of 1,000 to 5,500 websites might actually refer to the number of webpages, or instead refers to intranet websites. Later in 2014, it was reported elsewhere that the country had only 1,024 Internet Protocol (IP) addresses for a population of 25 million. As Martyn Williams at North Korea Tech wrote:
The most surprising thing in this list (of 28 websites) is that it’s pretty much what has been figured out in the last few years. A couple of the sites I haven’t seen before, and those are noted above without any explanation, but otherwise there are few revelations.

It’s important to note this isn’t the domain name system for the internal intranet. That isn’t accessible from the Internet in any way.
North Korea Tech has a list of North Korean websites, including small screenshots, short descriptions, and a few sites that are hosted outside of North Korea.

BBC offered a closer look at the North Korean intranet and computing experience in 2012, from the web code that makes Kim Jong-un name automatically display slightly larger than the adjacent text, to Red Star OS, the Microsoft Windows look-alike operating system. Wikipedia has a history of telecommunications in North Korea, noting that cell phone service was introduced in 2002 and commercial internet access was first available in 2003.

For more information on most isolated country on Earth, where possession of foreign media is a crime, and radios are hardwired to only receive government-run media, you can read Scott Thomas Bruce's 8 page article A Double-Edged Sword: Information Technology in North Korea.

Final tangents:
posted by filthy light thief (36 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Nine?
posted by odinsdream at 11:17 AM on September 22, 2016


I want to call the number on the cooking magazine site and try to order back issues...
posted by not_the_water at 11:33 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Taedonggang Patent & Trademark Law Office: "The web site of a Pyongyang-based lawyers office specializing in legal services for companies."

The value of a North Korean patent completely eludes me, but they exist [pdf].
posted by jedicus at 12:02 PM on September 22, 2016


odinsdream: "Nine?"

how many do they really need?

Myspace
LiveJournal
juche.pitas.com
tmz
posted by chavenet at 12:03 PM on September 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I want to call the number on the cooking magazine site and try to order back issues...

You might want to call OFAC first.
posted by jedicus at 12:05 PM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I was hoping the North Korean Internet was just an eternally scrolling Hamster Dance of Kim Jung Il. Or Un. Either one, really.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 12:10 PM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


how many do they really need?

You forgot Zombo.com.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:11 PM on September 22, 2016 [15 favorites]


The flight booking site has one way tickets to Shanghai. Surprised anybody comes back.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:14 PM on September 22, 2016


Anyone allowed out of the country is almost certainly either high up in the regime, or being held hostage via family members.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:18 PM on September 22, 2016


Confess, Fletch: "The flight booking site has one way tickets to Shanghai. Surprised anybody comes back."

Presumably they don't sell you enough tickets for your entire family.
posted by Mitheral at 12:25 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Let's not be too smug. They get to you through your family here too, when they need to.
posted by BentFranklin at 12:29 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Their version of Yelp has exactly ONE review. 100 stars for Kim Jong-Un!
posted by briank at 12:29 PM on September 22, 2016


You must read the comments.
posted by adept256 at 12:30 PM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Nine?

Correcting myself: nine second level domains, which are pretty common for countries (Argentina, .ar, has eight, Saudi Arabia, .sa, has eight, Taiwan, .tw, has 10). In North Korea, they're:
  1. co.kp;
  2. com.kp;
  3. edu.kp;
  4. gov.kp;
  5. kcna.kp (Korean Central News Agency);
  6. kptc.kp (Korea Posts and Telecommunications Co.);
  7. net.kp;
  8. org.kp; and
  9. rep.kp
So you'd get:
  • Myspace.com.kp
  • LiveJournal.com.kp
  • juche.pitas.com.kp
  • tmz.com.kp and
  • Zombo.com.kp
posted by filthy light thief at 12:34 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ok, nine second level domains makes sense. I couldn't figure out what they'd be doing with nine TLD's.
posted by sotonohito at 12:59 PM on September 22, 2016


Especially not with 28 total websites.
posted by sotonohito at 1:00 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Faster Korea is my favorite name so far. I'm only a little surprised that "kill! kill!" isn't appended to it.

I've never heard of the Mansudae Art Studio before, nor of the Italian-based dealers who funnel North Korean art to the West: "Basket of Kim Jong Il Flowers," "Breaktime," "Dance Party in Open Air," "Technological Revolution," "The Rabbits of Our Home." I can't decide which one I like best but now I kind of want one.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:00 PM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


The truly horrible thing is that someone has probably been sent to prison or killed over this.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:02 PM on September 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


Yeah, my first reaction was "huh! interesting!" and my second reaction was thinking about what effect "embarrassing tech failure" likely has on someone's career there. (I've worked on failures that were front page news around the world, so I have some extra sympathy there.)
posted by rmd1023 at 1:10 PM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Why is there so much English on these sites? If Korean is good enough for the Dear Leader, it should be good enough for His People!
posted by monotreme at 1:14 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Thoughts in ordee

1. Oh exciting more info about NK!
2. Gosh I hope they're free one day
3. I wonder if this was deliberate and if you'd need some kind of good skills to pull this off so that no one inside noticed at the time.
4. I hope this person escaped.
5. No wonder Inspector O never used the Internet.
6. Sigh.
7. Really, I hope this person(s) responsible are ok. Really I do.
posted by sio42 at 1:25 PM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I would guess that anyone working on NK'S tech infrastructure is pretty high up in the regime (since it requires a lot of trust) so they're probably too well placed to be executed or imprisoned out of hand. Unless it personally annoyed the ruler, and then nobody is safe.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:30 PM on September 22, 2016


In "without you there is no US" the English (American?) teacher writes about the special room the computers were kept in. How there was a guard. How the guard seemed kind of mystified of the boxes. They were only for students who would go to college. They would access papers to print off. Not like, search Wikipedia for starting points.

The teacher remembers there was a LOT of nothing said about the computers. I also believe she wasn't allowed to used them. She did bring in her laptop and had limited dial up access allowed by the government I believe to send emails to family. She used a new computer w no other personal info, kept her notes on a USB drive she kept w on a necklace at all times.

Crazy times. Now I get to see what she saw.
posted by sio42 at 1:30 PM on September 22, 2016


Mitrovarr: I would guess that anyone working on NK'S tech infrastructure is pretty high up in the regime (since it requires a lot of trust) so they're probably too well placed to be executed or imprisoned out of hand. Unless it personally annoyed the ruler, and then nobody is safe.

Actually, it sounds like those closest to him are the most likely to be executed:

Kim Jong Un’s Cruel & Unusual Executions (The Daily Beast, May 13, 2015) The young North Korean dictator is said to be continuing his father’s tradition of gruesome methods of punishment for those in his inner circle.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:42 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


From the University site, which has a handy English button at the top.

These are the headlines from the main page which otherwise looks like a normal university site. Can't really argue w the last headline tho...

Education & Science >>>
- Perfect settlement of the youth issue in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
-The history of the Korean revolution is the one of self-development; the revolution was pioneered and has advanced victoriously by dint of it
DPRK is the cradle of eternal life and happiness of the Korean people
- History Reveals the United States Has No Right to Argue About "Human Rights" Issue
posted by sio42 at 2:01 PM on September 22, 2016


I clicked on THESES ON SOCIALIST EDUCATION bc I thought it was a link and it downloaded a PDF. From 1977.

Man wrote thesis paper without a TOC. What kind of advisor did dude have for his PhD program in Assholer Dictatorship Arts and Sciences?
posted by sio42 at 2:06 PM on September 22, 2016


List of scientific papers. I think these are the abstracts. They seem to be trying to find a way to use traditional medicine with modern medicine. I have no idea what I'm reading bc it makes as much as sense as Western science abstracts to me. Would love to see what the mefi science and stats crew thinks of these. I took some screens shots in case this goes dark again.
posted by sio42 at 2:13 PM on September 22, 2016


And then I remembered to actually turn on my VPN. One does not simply log on to the Kim ll Sung University website.
posted by sio42 at 2:15 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


(sorry I'll stop commenting now. Hope others post what they found)
posted by sio42 at 2:16 PM on September 22, 2016


> The value of a North Korean patent completely eludes me, but they exist [pdf].

Foreign corporations wanting to protect their intellectual property within North Korea will need to hire a patent lawyer. North Korea is not a member of all major patent treaties.

> Why is there so much English on these sites?

I assume it's for the benefit of foreign guests, such as tourists (DPRK has a tourist industry, even if mostly to serve an imaginary market) and expats.
posted by ardgedee at 2:23 PM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Many teachers are English speaking. They go there as teachers but are often secret missionaries. That's how the teacher i mentioned above got to go. She wasn't a missionary tho she just pretended so she could join the group.
posted by sio42 at 2:51 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Foreign corporations wanting to protect their intellectual property within North Korea will need to hire a patent lawyer.

You have a remarkable faith in the North Korean court system to fairly enforce the intellectual property of foreign corporations.
posted by jedicus at 7:12 PM on September 22, 2016


sio42, you mean she was a non-missionary pretending to be a missionary pretending to be a non-missionary? That's some Eco-tier backstory right there.
posted by No-sword at 8:45 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


You have it exactly right. It was weird bc she had to pretend to be vaguely religious with the other teachers in private bc they weren't allowed to be religious in front of the students. The book is really good. Very depressing and crazy. But interesting.
posted by sio42 at 10:39 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


The idea of a North Korean social networking site is particularly ironic. In a police state, the last thing you'd want is a public way to link yourself to other people. My guess is people are coerced into using it. "All true patriots have an account..."
posted by panama joe at 12:27 PM on September 24, 2016


Wow. Grand Theft Auto IV came out eight years ago, and it had more faux websites in its in-game internet than North Korea has in real life... even if you only count the dot-coms.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:38 PM on September 24, 2016


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