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North Korea Accidentally Reveals It Only Has 28 Websites

North Korean students work at computer terminals inside a computer lab at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang in January 2013.
David Guttenfelder
North Korean students work at computer terminals inside a computer lab at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang in January 2013.

On Monday afternoon, a security engineer named Matt Bryant stumbled upon a part of the Internet that is usually hidden from most of the world: a list of websites available to people with Internet access in North Korea.

The total number of sites was just 28.

Bryant's list includes every site ending in .kp, which is the country code associated with North Korea.

About 149.9 million websites end in country codes, such .de for Germany or .cn for China. More than 10 million sites end in .cn, according to the most recent report by the domain name registry Verisign.

But it appears the North Korean Internet is not a very big place.

When he discovered the list, Bryant was working for a project run by GitHub, which organizes engineers like him to continuously query different parts of the Internet and post the results, as a kind of tick-tock of how the Internet looks around the globe. On Tuesday, GitHub posted the list of 28 North Korean websites.

From there, the list made its way to the popular forum site Reddit, and people began exploring the sites and discussing what they found.

By Wednesday, the tech blog Motherboard reported many of the websites were down, possibly because of the spike in traffic.

Most of the sites are banal — a mix of propaganda, news and education. NPR accessed a handful of sites and saw what appear to be Korean language websites on the following topics:

An airline ticketing website for Air Koryo

A website for a group called National Unity

A website for Kim Il Sung University

A website for the Voice of Korea news organization

A news website for the government of North Korea

One site, friend.com.kp, appeared to some on Reddit to be a social media site. Another, cooks.org.kp, appeared to have recipes for Korean dishes, also according to Reddit. NPR could not access either site on Wednesday.

"Now we have a complete list of domain names for the country and it's surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) very small," Bryant told Motherboard in an email.

The vast majority of North Koreans do not have any Internet access at all. Speaking last year in South Korea, Secretary of State John Kerry said its neighbor to the north had the "lowest rate of access in the world and the most rigid and centralized control."

But the Internet may not be the only network available to those who do have access to connected computers north of the DMZ. According to the blog North Korea Tech, the country has an intranet called Kwangmyong, reportedly connected by fiber optic cables, available only within the country's borders.

The blog, run by journalist Martyn Williams of IDG News, has reported that Kwangmyong connects libraries and universities in North Korea, citing Facebook posts by people inside North Korea and posters about the intranet seen by foreign journalists reporting from the country. Because the intranet is physically connected only within the country's borders, the blog says, it is impossible for the rest of the world to hack into, or for people connected to Kwangmyong to overcome its censorship.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.