North Korea’s Internet is a step back in time… for the better

The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea has an Internet rather more like an Intranet — a closed set of websites which are not accessible from the outside world and, conversely, North Koreans are not allowed to access most foreign websites. However, for a small period of time earlier this week, that changed, and gave us an insight into an undeveloped online world — one with all of the crap taken out.

Matthew Bryant, author of The Hacker Blog, has lots of fun writing routines which scalp the Internet at large. Recent adventures include a haul of over 20,000 domains owing to lax registrar security, figuring out how to scan and find all addons in a user’s browser, and the TLDR project, which runs every two hours to attempt zone transfers in TLDs across the world and pull back any data of interest. Basically, in the case of the DPRK, it allowed Bryant to pull a list of domains registered in North Korea, of exclusive use to North Koreans.

Some are indeed available to the outside world. Cooks, for example, does what it suggests — it’s a recipe site for Korean dishes. Those which are not include Faster Korea, a sports news and information site; and Friend, a site representing the country’s cultural exchange programme.

What these sites represent is something much more interesting than a simple brushing aside of a digital backwater. North Korea has given us the web as it was in western Europe, circa 1996. It’s a web with limited graphic and display opportunities; a web free of crappy banner ads; and a web positioned entirely for its utility value.

Take a look at the Kim Il-Sung University website (screenshot). Isn’t it an easier, less stressful experience than British university websites such as the University of Central Lancashire — with its horrific slogan Career yourself successful — or UWE, with its huge HELLO laid over a photo of a young man with his arm around two laughing young ladies for no apparent reason?

How about the Korean News Agency (screenshot). Surely it’s a pleasant and more refreshing site in comparison to the massive homepage (complete with auto-play video) of CBS News or the mind-melting fuckton of global happenings from Aftonbladet (complete with the cherry-on-top experience of a full-size interstitial)?

So, if you feel that the DPRK’s web estate is behind the times, think again. Perhaps, in an unintended consequence of its restrictions (both political and technical), it is actually giving us the web we want. How much is a one-way to Pyongyang, we wonder…?

Originally published at

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