North Korea back online after massive Internet outage

December 23, 2014
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North Korean websites were back online Tuesday after a prolonged Internet shutdown that follows outrage over a cyberattack on Sony Pictures the US says originated in North Korea. US officials declined to discuss a possible US role in the outage.

Key North Korean websites went back online Tuesday after an almost 10-hour shutdown that came days after a US vow to respond “proportionately” to a crippling cyberattack on Sony Pictures that Washington linked to Pyongyang.

The White House and the State Department declined to say whether the US government was responsible for the Internet shutdown in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Pyongyang officially denies any involvement in the Sony hack but has called it a “righteous deed”. North Korea was angry over the new Sony comedy “The Interview” starring James Franco and Seth Rogan, who play two bumbling misfits who are asked by the US government to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

South Korean officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the North’s official Korean Central News Agency and the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, which are the main channels for North Korean news, had been downed in the outage. The websites were back up later on Tuesday. Among the posts glorifying the ruling Kim family was one about Kim Jong-un visiting a catfish farm.

US computer experts described the Internet outages in the North as sweeping and progressively worse. Jim Cowie, chief scientist at Dyn Research, an Internet performance company, said in an online post that the North came back online after a 9.5-hour outage.

Possible causes for the shutdown include an external attack on its fragile network or even just power problems, Cowie wrote. But, he added, “We can only guess.”

Last year North Korea suffered similar brief Internet shutdowns of websites at a time of nuclear tensions with the United States, South Korea and other countries. North Korea blamed Seoul and Washington for the outages.

US President Barack Obama has said the US government would respond “proportionately” to the Sony hack, which he described as an expensive act of “cyber vandalism” by North Korea.

But US options for acting against North Korea are limited. The country already faces massive international and US sanctions over its repeated nuclear and rocket tests.

Sony canceled plans to release the movie after a group of hackers made threats against theaters that planned to show it, despite the Department of Homeland Security saying there was “no credible intelligence” indicating that US cinemas were in danger.

Although North Korea is equipped for broadband Internet, only a small, approved segment of the population has any access to the World Wide Web. Few North Koreans have access to computers; those who do are typically able to connect only to a domestic Intranet. The North’s Intranet gives access to government-sanctioned sites and works with its own browsers, search engine and email programs, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

More than a million people use mobile phones in North Korea and its network covers most major cities, but users cannot call or receive calls from outside the country.

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