North Korea accidentally leaked its entire internet to the world

21 Sep 2016

Statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Image: Atilla JANDI/Shutterstock

Someone in control of North Korea’s internet may have pressed the wrong button as the country’s 28 websites briefly escaped into the real world and have now been archived.

With news rarely escaping the isolationist state of North Korea, the fact that the country’s entire restrictive internet structure of 28 websites – full of state propaganda – has leaked is fascinating news for those of us on the outside.

Until now, only a trickle of information about the country’s internet access has appeared online, showing a heavily censored and prohibitive internet that doesn’t connect to the outside world.

28 websites in total

A user on GitHub revealed that on 19 September, North Korea – likely accidentally – configured its internet for global DNS zone transfers, making it completely accessible to the outside world.

By sending a zone transfer request (referred to as an AXFR) to North Korea’s name server, the country’s 28 websites were briefly revealed to the world before being removed, following the likely discovery of the mistake.

The opening of North Korea’s virtual border was spotted as part of the TL;DR Project, which continually runs zone transfers against all of the world’s top-level domain-name servers every two hours and subsequently archives any data retrieved.

North Korea internet

Still from one of the North Korean websites. Image: Internet Archive

From making friends to state propaganda

A number of internet sleuths on Reddit  managed to access the web archive to reveal some of the services that North Koreans have access to, including a place to buy airline tickets and one to make friends.

Another website simply referred to as Rodong appears to be propaganda and the voice for the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

There even appears to be a website for the Pyongyang International Film Festival that will likely feature films from the country’s most prolific director, film fanatic and previous head of state, Kim Jong-il.

This latest misstep from North Korean authorities appears to show that the country struggles with maintaining control of its internet, with previous reports revealing its entire network went down for a period of 10 hours in 2014.

Statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Image: Atilla JANDI/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic