ICYMI: When North Korea Accidentally Revealed a Closely Guarded Secret About its Internet

The government-controlled Internet in North Korea is a lot smaller than was initially believed, only containing 28 websites in total.

North Korea

North Korea — one of the world’s most isolated countries; the most secretive state in the world, and a locked box to the rest of the world — notoriously restricts its citizens’ access to the Internet. Since its Internet is largely inaccessible to anyone outside the country, it is next to impossible for the world to get a glimpse into how North Korea’s Internet works.

But on September 19, Kim Jong-un’s country reconfigured its Domain Name System (DNS) server to accidentally reveal a full list of its .kp domain names, thereby giving the entire world a brief glimpse of its Internet. It turned out that there are just 28 registered domain names using the .KP top level domain (TLD). In other words, the government-controlled Internet emerged to be a lot smaller than was initially believed, containing just 28 websites in total.

The great discovery was made by US-based security engineer Matt Bryant when he sent an automated request to access its Internet domains, and North Korea’s DNS server (usually configured to reject such mischievous requests) obliged (most likely by mistake). Bryant then dumped the domain names and some of the file data on Github — a website that hosts computer code, and from there, the list made its way to Reddit.

north korea north koreaBryant explains how he managed to get his hands on North Korea’s closely guarded secret:

“On Sept 19, 2016, at approximately 10:00PM (PST), one of North Korea’s top level name servers was accidentally configured to allow global DNS zone transfers. This allows anyone who performs an ‘AXFR’ (zone transfer) request to the country’s ‘ns2.kptc.kp’ nameserver to get a copy of the nation’s top level DNS data. This was detected by the [TLDR Project].”

Here’s a list of all the websites:

north korea North KoreaAccording to North Korea Tech, people in North Korea access the Internet through an intranet called “Kwangmyong,” which is available only within the country’s borders. Because the intranet is physically connected only within the country’s borders, and because the websites are hosted in China and not in North Korea, it is impossible for the rest of the world to hack into it. “Now we have a complete list of domain names for the country and it’s surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) very small,” Bryant told Motherboard.

There are more than 140 million .com and .net domains on the Internet. There are also millions of websites for each country code top level domain; for instance, more than 10 million sites end in .cn (China). However, only a few thousand of North Korea’s 25 million people have access to its 28 websites-rich Internet. It could be because Internet access in North Korea is only permitted with special authorization and it is primarily used for government purposes and by foreigners. Martyn Williams writes:

“One of the pillars of Kim Jong Un’s vise-grip on the lives of his people is propaganda: All news originates from the same government propaganda bureau, photographs and video of Kim are tightly coordinated, and there is absolutely no independent media. There’s no satellite TV, no foreign newspapers. Radios are fixed so they receive only domestic broadcasts. Illegally modifying a radio to tune stations from neighboring South Korea can land someone in jail. If widespread access were ever allowed, the Internet would pose a massive threat to the regime.”

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