Developing: Russia boosts North Korea through new Internet access

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Jim Hammerton

"Thanks Cassandra, that's my ignorance..."

Cassandra Vinograd

"Thanks, Jim. Are you in a position to..."

Jim Hammerton

"This article is very well structured ..."

Russia has provided North Korea with a second Internet connection giving the hermit nation greater capabilities to protect itself from cyber attacks, as well as carry them out.

The move comes as the United States and United Nations tightens economic sanctions on the country.

White House officials have not commented on North Korea’s newly acquired internet capabilities. The improvement in North Korean communications, however, contradicts the larger U.S. campaign to isolate the regime globally as it continues to develop missile technology that could carry a nuclear weapon.

The fiber optic cables and other infrastructure required to establish an internet connection was made possible by TransTeleComwhich regularly runs fiberoptic cabling alongside railway linesTransTeleCom is owned by Russian Railway, a state-run conglomerate with close ties to the Kremlin.

The only other North Korean internet connection runs through China, the regime’s primary economic partner. With another link, the country is less vulnerable to cyber attacks.

“By increasing the number of internet connections in and out of the country, it increases its resilience to attacks,” Bryce Boland, cybersecurity expert with FireEye told CNN.

U.S. targeting of North Korean internet infrastructure began in 2014 under former Barack Obama. President Donald J. Trump has continued the cyber campaign. The Washington Post reported that the the Russian-North Korea connection went online after the U.S. ended its multiple day denial of service attack that severed the country’s online capabilities.

Dear Community: What benefits does another internet connection offer North Korea?

With limited resources, North Korea does not typically carry out cyber-attacks from within the country’s borders. Instead, it will likely use its stronger internet connection to communicate with hackers who are based in countries with more connectivity.

Internet For North Koreans

There is no reliable data of internet access in North Korea. Slate reported that foreign companies and expatriates based in Pyongyang are allowed to browse the internet from smartphones. Graduate students can use the internet within university campuses with unknown restrictions.

What is known is that there are likely less than 50 websites accessible in North Korea. The government accidentally leaked a list of registered domains in the country last year.

On Tuesday BBC News reported that in a recent speech to members of his politburo, Kim Jong-un emphasised development of the North Korean economy; part of his “Byungjin” strategy, the dual development of the economy and the nuclear weapons programme. North Korea’s first online shop, Chollima, opened in January 2008, but no longer appears to be in operation.

Russia and North Korea Relationship

Russian President Vladimir Putin is critical of the aggressive stance taken by the United States towards North Korea and its moves to develop missile technology. Putin advocates for dialogue over pressure while the Trump Administration tries to isolate North Korea as much as possible. The Kremlin, however, has maintained diplomatic and economic ties.

Last week, the North Korean foreign minister flew to Moscow to discuss their tense relationship with the United States. Reuters reported that Russia was able to sell refined fuel to North Korea, which flies against international sanctions.

Russia’s increased role in North Korea may be critical for the regime’s survival as China shows signs of joining the international community in isolating the country. China remains the largest trading partner for North Korea, but intense lobbying efforts from international community has pressured Beijing into implementing sanctions of their own.

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Charles Michio Turner is an American journalist who reports on labor, politics and development. In 2016, he reported from Myanmar on the several growing social movements in the country. His goal is to find new ways to include audiences in the new reporting process. Let him know if there's an issue or question that you see as being underreported or poorly reported. Twitter: @charlesmichio

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21 January 2018

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  1. Rewrite

    This article is very well structured and sourced and I agree that the primary reason for installing a second internet connection for NK will be to increase resilience against external cyber attack. However I would question the emphasis on it’s use in NK-sponsored or coordinated attacks.

    As you say, the NK regime generally uses actors outside of the country, and a second connection is unlikely to change that. I would like to see some discussion of the regime’s Byungjin policy of economic development. I would argue that this connection is more likely to be intended to support this, and to forge closer ties with Russia.

    1. Rewrite

      Thanks, Jim. Are you in a position to go into the story via the “edit button” and suggest edits in ALL CAPS or BOLD? Happy to talk you through it. Otherwise, can take feedback on here. Just thought might be faster since sounds like you have it in your head!

      1. Rewrite

        Thanks Cassandra, that’s my ignorance of how the edit system is meant to work. I’ll give it a try

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