Information Warfare: The Wi-Fi Cancer In North Korea


September 7, 2014: North Korea is having a wi-fi problem in its capital. There, many embassies have taken to installing powerful wi-fi systems that can be easily used by nearby North Koreans. These wi-fi routers are set up so they do not need a password. Many embassies do this on purpose to allow news of the outside world to get into North Korea via an uncensored Internet link (usually via a satellite link).

The North Korean government has only recently allowed some access to the Internet. In early 2014 North Korea expanded Internet access and computer use for students and trusted members of the population. Most of these users only have access to the North Korean Internet, which is called “Bright.”  This consists of a few thousand websites, all hosted within North Korea and mostly containing educational or propaganda material plus government announcements of importance. The news sites on Bright give the government version of the news. Discussion is permitted, but constantly monitored for disloyalty. Bright is isolated from the international Internet and access to Internet sites outside North Korea is strictly monitored, as is email outside the country. Anyone who misuses either Bright or the international Internet access is severely punished. Thus while Internet access is sought, it is also feared.

This makes the free embassy wi-fi networks so dangerous. There have been several instances of wealthy North Koreans moving to neighborhoods with an embassy wi-fi network just so they, and their kids, could have access to the web outside of North Korea. In particular North Koreans want access to the growing number of Korean language websites, most of them in South Korea.

South Korea was an early pioneer in making Internet access, especially high-speed service, available inexpensively and on a wide scale. In 2000 some 40 percent of South Koreans had Internet access and ten years later that had risen to 81 percent. Thus by 2005 over 95 percent of South Korean mobile phones had Internet access and by 2006 over half of home Internet users had high-speed access. Now all South Korean Internet users have high speed access and the speeds are the highest in the world.  Although an American firm (Apple) invented the modern smart phone in 2005, it was a South Korean firm (Samsung) that went on to become the world’s largest producer of smart phones.

North Koreans who can get to these Korean language sites outside of North Korea can use “grabber” apps (many of them available free) to download all the content on a website. This can then be passed around via a USB memory stick. The North Korean government does not like this sort of thing but so far has preferred to avoid international condemnation for cracking down on embassy Internet use.



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