The power of Reddit has led to some websites in North Korea's public-facing intranet crashing, after users of the social bookmarking website got hold of 28 URLs due to a domain name system (DNS) configuration error. At around 8pm BST on 21 September, Reddit user Jabberminor posted that many of the 28 websites were offline due to too many people trying to access the sites at the same time.
The websites include newspapers owned by state news agencies, sites for organisations like chefs, insurance brokers, professional athletes, websites set up for North Korean charities, promoting causes such as education and care for elderly people.
It is believed that internet users outside North Korea were suddenly able to access these websites because on 19 September, one of North Korea's top level nameservers was accidentally configured to enable global DNS zone transfers, meaning that anyone who performed an AXFR zone transfer request to the affected nameserver was able to gain a copy of the country's top level DNS data, and a security engineer did so, posting the 28 domains he found onto GitHub.
But there's more than 28 websites
However, it is very likely untrue that the entire North Korean intranet only consists of just 28 websites, as multiple media vehicles are suddenly claiming. According to a Washington Post article from 2013, North Korea's internet, which is known as the Kwangmyong network, features multiple websites including a webmail service and a government-sanctioned social network, as well as multiple local message boards that try to give citizens levels of interaction similar to Western social networks like Twitter or Facebook.
It is also believed that the North Korean government frequently downloads a multitude of websites from the open web, particularly those relating to science, reviews and censors the contents, and then publishes these sites on the intranet so that citizens can stay informed with the latest innovations.
And if you still don't believe us, check out this article by AP from 2014, whereby reporters spent time at the Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang observing students working on computers, where they were using a Firefox-style search engine called Our Country to navigate between 1,000 to 5,500 websites.
We shouldn't be naive about North Korea
The 28 websites we've seen appear in many cases to simply be government-run webpages with little or no interaction with the general public. I suppose in a Truman Show-style scenario where everything is fake, you could argue that 28 websites would be enough, but it's pretty hard to run an entire country without a proper intranet to connect the government with industries and universities, and the North Koreans are not stupid, just insanely secretive.
People who research the North Korean internet say that the 28 websites have been known for years, and that this is nothing new. Kwangmyong network uses its own DNS service, and while the security engineer received DNS data, he very likely didn't receive all of it.
Take a look at any of the coverage North Korea permits about its progress, and you see sophisticated, technologically advanced buildings and masses of gleaming machinery. There's also multiple reports about botnets and DDoS attacks originating from the country. If they didn't have the ability to learn about these things, it is unlikely that that innovation would be proliferating in certain parts of the country.
Although it is believed that many North Koreans might still have no access to this intranet, clearly some do, perhaps those in higher education and industry, who learn about things and inform the government so that it can make decisions. Somehow, they're able to learn about the things they need to know, and the government is clearly disseminating what it feels is "useful", while leaving the rest of the open web alone.
It wouldn't surprise me if somewhere in North Korea, there are currently a lot of people sitting around laughing at the West's assumptions that its intranet has only 28 websites, which frankly, does make us sound pretty arrogant and ignorant.