Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September 2014, 08:34 GMT

Internet Enemies 2010 - North Korea

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 18 March 2010
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Internet Enemies 2010 - North Korea, 18 March 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c21f6708.html [accessed 17 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Domain name: .kp
Population: 22,665,345
Internet-users: non-available data
Average charge for one hour's connection at a cybercafé: around 8,19 US$
Average monthly salary: around 17,74 US$
Number of imprisoned netizens: 0

In the world's most hermetic country, the large majority of the population is not even aware that the Internet exists. An extremely limited Intranet has been created, but few can access it. The network is used by Kim Jong-il and a few senior officials for their personal enjoyment and to help spread the regime's propaganda to foreign countries. The only glimmer of hope: the communications black market on the North Korean-Chinese border.

Internet: Nothing but a vague rumor

North Korea is literally cut off from the rest of the world, and the Internet is no exception. The international network is accessible only by a small minority: a few high-ranking members of the regime and foreign diplomats, via a satellite link with servers based abroad. Kim Jong-il is known for his obsession with electronic gadgets, and for having asked former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for her email address so that he could write to her. However, he is keeping the rest of the population totally secluded from the Web. In a country whose inhabitants' main concern is survival, the Internet's existence is little more than a rumor.

A very limited Intranet has developed, consisting of an email inbox, a few news sites relaying regime propaganda, and a browser providing access to the databank Web pages of the country's three biggest libraries: the Grand People's Study House and those of the Kim Il-Sung and Kim Chaek Universities. This Intranet is accessible only by academics, businessmen and high-ranking civil servants who have received special clearance.

The very rare cybercafés that have opened in the capital are under the strict control of the Korean Computer Center, the country's sole access provider. Although they make it possible to connect to the North Korean Internet, their customers consider them first and foremost as points of access to computers and games.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has finally assigned North Korea the ".kp" domain name and appointed the President of the Chosun Computer Center's European Section, a German, as Administrator. The country is said to have thirty IP addresses that it is not using at the moment. The official state website, www.korea-dpr.com, is supposedly hosted in the United States, and that of the Chosun Central News Agency in Japan.

Online propaganda

North Korea's very minimal presence on the Web is totally devoted to singing the praises of Kim Jong-il and of his father, Kim Il-sung, as well as the self-reliance ideology – "Juche Idea" – extolled by the regime. A few dozen websites relay these official positions...and are blocked in South Korea. The official Chosun News Agency website, for example, disseminates only "positive" news about the country, whether Kim Jong II's visits to his compatriots or news about the extremely rare groups abroad that still support the country. Any negative news is intentionally omitted.

North Korea is also suspected of having mounted a DDoS-type cyberattack against some thirty American and South Korean business and government websites in the summer of 2009.

Vague hints of a conciliatory attitude?

Since the beginning of 2008, a new cell phone service has been installed by the Egyptian company Orascom, but it is very limited, servicing mainly Pyongyang and a few large southern cities. It is too expensive for most of the population and does not allow international calls. The state security police track any people who might be tempted to use telecommunications to circumvent censorship. One man was executed in 2007 for making an unauthorized phone call to a foreign country. North Korea is probably the only country in the world in which the telephone book is classified as "top secret."

Accustomed to maintaining complex relations with the global community, the regime is vacillating between provocation and dialogue. When it makes a seemingly conciliatory gesture and allows foreigners to enter its territory, it grants them access to the World Wide Web. For example, when the New York Philharmonic Orchestra visited the country in 2008, the musicians and journalists who accompanied them had access, in their hotel, to a high-speed World Wide Web connection. Some tourist sites also reportedly benefit from Internet access at certain times.

The limited news that enters the country comes through its border with China, thanks to individuals who commute between the two countries, and the CDs and DVDs that are illegally brought in. The black market is thriving. Telephones from China allow users to make calls by picking up a signal at the border. The recent introduction of 3G telephones in China may also allow better access to the Internet in these border regions. Other alternative news sources include the DailyNK website, managed by North Korean refugees based in South Korea. Independent radio stations that transmit from South Korea to North Korea – Free North Korea Radio, Radio Free Chosun, Open Radio for North Korea and North Korea Reform Radio – gather their news by calling upon "stringers" based on the Chinese border.

The regime's revenge

Nonetheless, in February 2010, North Korean authorities announced that they would intensify the crackdown on "defectors," and by the same token deploy stricter control on the means of communication at the border, notably targeting the Chinese cell phones used in North Korea. The regime boasted that it has the means to "crush reactionary forces" and that it has already provided an example by executing a worker accused of having used an "illegal" Chinese cell phone. According to Open Radio for North Korea, he allegedly divulged information about the price of rice and his lifestyle to a "defector" friend living in South Korea. Radio Free Asia has specified that the government has acquired equipment that can block cell phone signals and intensified the tracking and jamming of such signals. Allegedly, the equipment concerned will be installed at the country's Chinese border, in cities such as Shinuiju, Hyesan and Hweryong.

Although the "Beloved Leader" is sick, very little news has leaked about his potential successor – his youngest son – other than the fact that he studied in Switzerland. His views on information control are therefore completely unknown.

One thing is clear: the incumbent regime has no intention of allowing its population – steeped in an omnipresent propaganda – to learn more about the outside world. The information disseminated on the Internet, as well as news broadcast on international radio stations, could convince more North Koreans to flee the country.

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