North Korea’s internet is a ‘walled garden’

Nov. 17, 2017
by Mark Ollig

Granted, it’s not the global internet you and I access; quite the opposite. It’s a tightly-controlled network within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

I can best describe the DPRK/North Korean version of their country’s “in-house internet” as similar to a company or organization’s private network or intranet system.

An intranet or (internal network) is a communications/computer network with software programs and services used by the computing devices of specific users with authorized access.

The North Korean name for their internet system is “Kwangmyong,” meaning “walled garden.”

Kwangmyong connects with the country’s educational and governmental research institutes, its libraries, and higher learning (universities) webpages.

The official media source for DPRK is the Korean Central Television/News Agency, which is also accessible on Kwangmyong.

Other content available includes the state insurance corporation, official government web portal, and the Pyongyang Broadcasting Agency’s webpage.

There are also webpages for the Pyongyang International Film Festival, the Korean Tourist Board, and the state-owned airline of North Korea; Air Koryo.

Kwangmyong connects with the North Hwanghae Provincial People’s Study House, which is equipped with spacious computer rooms for use by university students and military officers.

Pyongyang is the largest city and capital of the DPRK, and contains several internet cafes available with Kwangmyong.

Kwangmyong’s resources are normally accessed via computer modems and dial-up telephone lines.

This type of access – including the webpages I saw – was reminiscent of the modest graphical user interfaces found on CompuServe, America Online, Prodigy, and hobbyist computer BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) during the early 1990s.

North Koreans have no connection from Kwangmyong for accessing the global internet.

In order to own a computer, a North Korean needs the permission of their government, and they must register it with their local policing agency.

A demonstration of how Kwangmyong is used was the theme of a recent video I located.

This video included some English translation by Finland foreign news correspondent Mika Mäkeläinen.

Mäkeläinen was in the company of a North Korean presenter who explained and navigated through the information hyperlinks on Kwangmyong from a North Korean university classroom computer.

University students were seated at other desks and could be seen and heard using their computers.

I observed some of the hyperlink pages clicked presented a “This webpage is not available” English message on the demonstration computer screen.

“Let’s see if we can get somewhere else,” a person on the video said.

Next, I viewed a list of about 40 hypertext links, each labeled in the Korean language. The presenter clicked on a link which opened the Kim Il-sung University webpage.

This university is located in Pyongyang, North Korea, and was built in 1946. It contains a large computer lab.

The presenter described the content on this webpage, including numerous achievements performed by the university, and the listing of student resource hyperlinks.

When asked by Mäkeläinen if the university’s webpages had any journalism information, or if they taught journalism, the North Korean presenter paused and then briefly conversed with another person. The presenter then clicked a hyperlink on the screen showing a news webpage containing articles and stories.

Another hyperlink was selected showing a webpage featuring movies on compact discs which could be ordered or downloaded to a computer.

It was pointed out several computer anti-virus software programs were also available for ordering.

Another hyperlink opened the webpage for a North Korean restaurant. “Cooking is science and art” was one of the articles found there.

This 11-minute video can be viewed on the Finnish webpage, http://bit.ly/2hoNj0K.

I took a screen-capture photo of the North Korean classroom showing students using computers. Framed photographs of Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il, can also be seen on the wall at the front of the classroom.

Here is the classroom video screen-capture photo I uploaded to my blog webpage: http://bit.ly/2hy3PQ3.

Of the 25 million people in North Korea, approximately 3,000 have access to Kwangmyong.

The North Korean global internet service provider is Star JV (Joint Venture) Company.

It’s been reported only high-ranking North Korean government officials, citizens with “special permissions,” and select foreign visitors have the approval to use the global internet.

Since 2010, these select few were routed to the global internet through China’s Unicom internet connection.

As of last month, Russia’s telecommunications company, TransTeleCom, activated a newly installed internet fiber-optic cable into Pyongyang, in what I assume is a backup in the event China’s internet-provided connection is interrupted.

The Twitter username for Mika Mäkeläinen is @Mikareport, and the official news feed for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is @DPRK_News.

Be sure to visit my Bits & Bytes online webpage at https://bitscolumn.blogspot.com.

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