Internet Censorship in North Korea

Countries Mar 16, 2021

North Korea is both one of the astonishing mysteries for practically the rest of the world's population and the worst nightmare of any authoritarian regime opponents. It is challenging to get into the country, and for any careless step, you can pay with your life or freedom. But North Korea somehow has a population of over 25 million people. Below, we describe whether the country has some connection with the outside world, and who has access to the Internet there.

Own North Korean Internet analog:
The country has a two-tier Internet access system. The bulk of the population has access only to the Internet's internal analog called Kwangmyong, the country's "walled garden" national intranet service opened in 2000, which is fenced off from the worldwide network in every possible way.

How does it work?
Kim Jong-un personally approves the list of those who have access to the national intranet. The lucky ones include politicians and diplomats, as well as the Korea Computer Center, the security service, and some universities and export businesses.

Even the "elite" can access the Internet from computers located in select rooms, which can only be accessed with passes. According to statistics, there are only 20,000 such users.

The computers run their OS called Red Star, which has a calendar and text editor, and the local browser Naenara. Outwardly, the operating system resembles OS X, but it was developed based on Linux.

Who has access to the Kwangmyong?
Moreover, personal computers in Korea are the privilege of wealthy and high-ranking citizens. Even flash drives for the local population are primarily a fashion accessory. Smartphones are usually used to access the Internet.

All files uploaded to computers using USB are watermarked so that authorities can identify them and track all information in search of traces of subversion.

Kwangmyong only grants access to sites officially approved by the Control Center, the content of which is censored. Usually, these sites are opened to users at universities' request, and you can get acquainted with scientific or educational literature. By the way, books in North Korea are downloaded to tablets made by a Chinese company specially. Not everyone can afford them.

Users can also go to university pages and culinary sites, read the news (which contains propaganda), or write to each other by e-mail. There are about 5,500 sites in total.

In 2016, North Korea launched its Facebook counterpart. The social network interface almost completely copied Facebook.

However, soon after the announcement, the site was hacked by Scotsman Andrew McKean. Andrew just entered the site with the username "admin" and password "password." After a couple of days, the site disappeared from the public domain.

Are any North Korean sites available to residents of other countries?
Yes. Two years ago, a list of about 30 such sites was posted on Reddit. These include propaganda news, food blogs, a movie site, and a sports portal.

Among the most read portals available outside of Kwangmyong is the North Korean Central News Agency's site.