First Click: North Korea's internet is as depressing as you'd think

September 22nd, 2016

There’s still a lot we don’t know about life in North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated countries, but the world got a rare glimpse into how its internet works this week. Not surprisingly, it seems pretty bleak.

On Tuesday, North Korea reconfigured its nameserver to reveal — apparently by accident — a full list of its .kp domain names. The discovery was made by security engineer Matt Bryant, who published the leaked data on Github, and first reported by Motherboard. According to the data, the country has just 28 registered domains.

north korea website

Motherboard puts that number in perspective. There are more than 140 million .com and .net domains in the world, and millions more for each country code top level domain, like .fr for France and .cn in China. Writing on the North Korea Tech blog, Martyn Williams notes that the list doesn’t include domains for North Korea’s intranet, which is available to a select few in the country and inaccessible from the global web.

But the leak nevertheless offers a fascinating look at online life under a totalitarian regime. Among the 28 domains is a site for recipes, a travel website, and what looks like a social network. There’s also a website for a charity for elderly people and a page for its maritime association. Gizmodo has published some screengrabs of the sites, aptly describing them as "bare-bones" and "antiseptic," though several links posted on Reddit are still unaccessible.

It’s always a little uncomfortable to read about North Korea online. Much of the most popular news tends to focus on the ridiculous, from Kim Jong-Un’s ban on sarcasm to the unfortunately named Manbang streaming service. (Netflix even poked fun at the knockoff site in its Twitter bio.) But revelations like the one made this week add some much-needed counterweight to the LOLs, shedding light on life in a totalitarian state where things like famine are still a problem. We’re all lucky that our online experience isn’t limited to a pinhole of just 28 websites, and that’s something we shouldn’t take for granted.

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