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North Korea moves quietly onto the Internet

By Martyn Williams
June 10, 2010 08:56 PM ET

IDG News Service - North Korea, one of the world's few remaining information black holes, has taken the first step toward a fully fledged connection to the Internet. But a connection, if it comes, is unlikely to mean freedom of information for North Korea's citizens.

In the past few months, a block of 1,024 Internet addresses, reserved for many years for North Korea but never touched, has been registered to a company with links to the government in Pyongyang.

The numeric IP addresses lie at the heart of communication on the Internet. Every computer connected to the network needs its own address so that data can be sent and received by the correct servers and computers. Without them, communication would fall apart.

It is unclear how the country's secretive leadership plans to make use of the addresses. It seems likely they will be assigned for military or government use, but experts say it is impossible to know for sure.

North Korea's move toward the Internet comes as it finds itself increasingly isolated on the world stage. The recent sinking of a South Korean warship has been blamed on the insular country. As a result, there are calls for tougher sanctions that would isolate North Korea further.

"There is no place for the Internet in contemporary DPRK," said Leonid A. Petrov, a lecturer in Korean studies at The University of Sydney, referring to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "If the people of North Korea were to have open access to the World Wide Web, they would start learning the truth that has been concealed from them for the last six decades."

"Unless Kim Jong-Il or his successors feel suicidal, the Internet, like any other free media, will never be allowed in North Korea," he said.

The North Korean addresses were recently put under the control of Star Joint Venture, a Pyongyang-based company that is partly controlled by Thailand's Loxley Pacific. The Thai company has experience working with North Korea on high-tech projects, having built North Korea's first cellular telephone network, Sunnet, in 2002.

Loxley acknowledged that it is working on a project with Pyongyang, but Sahayod Chiradejsakulwong, a manager at the company, wouldn't elaborate on plans for the addresses.

"This is a part of our business that we do no want to provide information about at the moment," he said.

A connection to the Internet would represent a significant upgrade of the North's place in cyberspace, but it's starting from a very low base.

At present the country relies on servers in other countries to disseminate information. The Web site of the Korea Central News Agency, the North's official mouthpiece, runs on a server in Japan, while Uriminzokkiri, the closest thing the country has to an official Web site, runs from a server in China.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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