RS 2: North Korea

North Korea’s digital divide: Online elites, isolated masses

For North Korea’s citizens, access to the World Wide Web is becoming more and more of a possibility — but only if you’re part of the country’s elite. In “North Korea’s digital divide: Online elites, isolated masses,” Eric Talmadge dissects North Korea’s strict internet regulation and the resulting chasm created within its society (The Chicago Tribune, 2017). According to Talmadge, North Korea is increasingly normalizing online activity among its residents. However, this activity is restricted to a “tightly sealed intranet,” where a user’s privacy is nonexistent, and the global Internet is unreachable (3). In theory, a more plugged in society goes against the country’s tight regime. Still, Talmadge notes that it’s not without its benefits for North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, who is able to wield this technology to exert greater “social and political control” and inflict cyber-attacks on other nations (5). As a result, Talmadge says North Korea shifted gears, allowing a limited number of trusted officials and individuals to access the Internet as they desire, while the majority of the country is confined to the nation’s intranet, walled off and isolated from the rest of the globe. On “Kwangmyong,” the national intranet network, Talmadge says users are able to browse sites through the “Naenara” browser, although only a total of 168 are actually housed on the network. According to Talmadge, everything on Kwangmyong is filtered, created and curated by the country’s government, with the exception of some approved external information collected from the global Internet. Even compared to other “information-wary” countries, Talmadge notes that North Korea is still considered extreme (18). To illustrate, Talmadge describes surveillance measures, such as watermarking downloaded items and screenshotting users’ screens, implemented with “Red Star,” the operating system North Korean computers run on. According to Recorded Future, a “U.S.-based cyber threat intelligence company,” and Team Cymru, a “non-profit Internet security group,” a small portion of North Koreans actively engage with the Internet and, subsequently, the world at large (44). Citing the FBI and cybersecurity experts, Talmadge points out some of these elite internet users’ roles in notable cyberattacks by North Korea, highlighting how the country has used technology to its advantage as well as the potential dangers such weaponry can possess. Despite government restrictions on the Internet for most of North Korea, Pak Sung Jin, a 30-year-old postgraduate and North Korean scholar, says he views the country’s regulation as a necessary form of protection in order to “shield the masses from aggressive propaganda” (54).

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