China is key to North Korean Internet, but maybe not hackers

Policing the country's Internet link wouldn't necessarily stop the actions of hackers

A request to the Chinese government by U.S. diplomats to help crack down on North Korean hacking underlines the important role the country plays in keeping the dictatorship online.

North Korea relies on China for Internet connectivity, partially due to long-standing ties between the two nations and partly because it has few options. North Korea borders just three countries: South Korea, with which it is still technically at war, Russia and China. The Chinese Internet is well developed and the Russian border is far from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, making China a good choice.

A connection from China Unicom into the country first appeared in late 2010. Until then, North Korea had no full-time connection to the Internet -- just an email service that relayed messages every hour or so.

The country was brought online by Star, a joint venture between the Korea Posts and Telecommunications Co. and Thailand's Loxley Pacific. It provides connectivity to a handful of websites in Pyongyang and those lucky enough to be permitted Internet access: foreigners in the country, senior students at elite universities, scientists and a handful of others. Usage is understood to be closely monitored.

And that's it. There are no other known Internet connections.

A second connection was previously available via Intelsat, an international satellite operator, but it appears to be out of use at present.

So it's tempting to think that with tighter control of that connection to China, a lot of malicious activity could be stopped. However, it's unclear whether that link was used at all in cyberattacks that are blamed on North Korea.

The country operates a number of software programming ventures in other countries and is suspected of basing cyberattackers overseas too. The Chinese city of Shenyang, close to the border with North Korea, is thought to be home to one such office and that would have a domestic Chinese Internet connection. Hackers are accused of routing traffic through servers in other countries, further complicating the task.

Asked on Monday about the reports of a U.S request to China for help, a State Department spokeswoman confirmed that the U.S. has asked for China's assistance, but didn't offer additional details.

"I would say on this or other issues, we have affirmed that malicious cyberactivity like this attack can pose a risk to international peace and security, so we'll keep having the conversation with them," the spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said at a briefing.

Away from the Internet, North Korea's other telecom links are just as meagre.

The country doesn't permit its citizens to make or receive international telephone calls. Calls to businesses in Pyongyang are typically routed through an operator, who must connect callers to the parties they are trying to reach. Direct dialling is almost impossible.

Much of North Korea's telephone capacity is believed to travel via China or via satellite.

The Pyongyang Earth Station opened in 1985 with a connection to Intersputnik, a satellite operator that connected mainly Soviet-bloc nations. In 1991, North Korea joined Intelsat and began using a satellite link to connect to countries like Japan, which in the past had been served by a shortwave radio telephony link.

It's 32-meter dish can easily be seen in satellite pictures of the site and is believed to still be in use today.

The country's state-run TV channel, Korean Central Television, is also broadcast from the country to viewers in Asia via a Thai-owned satellite.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags cybercrimelegaltelecommunicationdata breachCarriersCriminalIntelsatKorea Posts and Telecommunications Co.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?