Kwangmyong (network)

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Kwangmyong
Grand-Peoples-Study-House-Computer-Lab.jpg
A computer room equipped with access to Kwangmyong at the Grand People's Study House in Pyongyang
Korean name
Chosŏn'gŭl
광명
Hancha
光明
Revised Romanizationgwangmyeong
McCune–Reischauerkwang-myŏng
IPA[kwa̠ŋ.mjʌ̹ŋ]

Kwangmyong (lit.'Bright Light')[1][2] is a North Korean "walled garden" national intranet service[3] opened in the early 2000s. The Kwangmyong intranet system stands in contrast to the global Internet in North Korea, which is available to fewer people in the country.[4]

The network uses domain names under the .kp top level domain that are not usually accessible from the global Internet.[5] As of 2016 the network uses IPv4 addresses reserved for private networks in the 10.0.0.0/8 range.[5] North Koreans often find it more convenient to access sites by their IP address rather than by URL using Latin characters.[5] Like the global Internet, the network hosts content accessible with web browsers, and provides an internal web search engine. It also provides email services and news groups.[6][7] The intranet is managed by the Korea Computer Center.[8]

History[edit]

The first website in North Korea, the Naenara web portal, was made in 1996.[9] Efforts to establish the Kwangmyong network on a national scale began as early as 1997, with some development of intranet services in the Rajin-Sonbong Economic Special Zone as early as 1995. The intranet was originally developed by the "Central Scientific and Technological Information Agency".[10][11][12] The national Kwangmyong intranet was first in service during the early 2000s.[11][13][14][15] North Korea's first email provider was Sili Bank, established in 2001.[16][17][18]

Prior to 2006, North Koreans would use intranet chat rooms to organize meetups to play sports, such as basketball. Following an incident where around 300 North Korean intranet users organized a flash mob at the Pyongyang Gymnasium, all chat rooms were removed from the North Korean intranet.[9] Regional chat rooms reportedly made a return in 2015.[19]

In 2013, Anonymous-affiliated hackers claimed to have broken into North Korea's intranet.[20] However, evidence for the claim was lacking.[21][22][23]

A video conferencing system called Rakwon was developed at Kim Il-sung University in 2010. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it became much more popular for remote meetings and appeared regularly on news bulletins. Telemedicine and remote education systems have been developed.[24]

Content[edit]

As of 2014, the Kwangmyong network was estimated to have between about 1,000 and 5,500 websites.[13][25][7] Max Fisher of Vox estimated the number was about 5,000.[26]

The Kwangmyong network is composed of many websites and services. Some sites host political and economic propaganda. Scientific and cultural information and fields of knowledge among other topics can be found elsewhere.[10][17][27][28] Over 30 million mostly scientific or technical documents were reportedly posted to the intranet as of 2007.[8]

Websites of various North Korean government agencies including provincial government, cultural institutions, major universities and libraries, some local schools, and some of the major industrial and commercial organizations are accessible to users.[9][25] The network contains (mostly science-related) censored websites from the open Internet that are downloaded, undergo review and censorship, and publication on the Kwangmyong.[6][29]

An internal emailing service is available on the Kwangmyong network.[9][16][30] A search engine is in use for browsing the Kwangmyong intranet.[7][12][14][17] The search engine reportedly goes by the name "Our Country", or "Naenara".[25][29][31] A Facebook-like social networking service in use by professors and university students existed as of 2013, and was used to post birthday messages.[32] CNN reported in 2017 that a "North Korean equivalent to Facebook" exists.[33] Message boards are known to exist on the network.[29][34][26] An IPTV video-streaming service called Manbang (만방), Korean for "Everyone", was reportedly launched in August 2016, though the name Manbang appeared in North Korean technology as early as 2013. It is accessed by a Wi-Fi-enabled set-top box. It can be accessed through smartphones and tablet computers.[16][35][36] Reportedly the Kwangmyong has been used for online dating.[14][31][33] Chat rooms were used by North Koreans interested in sports until 2006, when the chat rooms were removed.[9] Regional chat rooms were added in 2015.[19]

Domestic state news services are available on the network, such as the Korean Central News Agency, Rodong Sinmun, and Voice of Korea.[17][16][37] Scientific research websites of academic and scholarly works devoted to the network are served through web-based academic exchanges and information sharing such as the Academy of Sciences for Science and Technology (Korean과학기술전시관; Hanja科學技術展示館)[38] and the Academy of Sciences for Medical Science (Korean의학과학정보센터).[39] An electronic library is present on the network, which also hosts video lectures for various topics.[9][40]

Some e-commerce and e-banking websites exist on the network.[30][41][42][43] Some video games also exist on the intranet.[9][14][18][31] One of the games available on the Kwangmyong is Korean chess.[17][25] Phones provide access to e-books and mobile payment.[44][45] Some cultural websites are among the few .kp domain websites which have been openly accessible to foreigners through the global Internet, such as at least one culinary site and one displaying the country's film industry.[29][46] Other services in use on the intranet include dictionaries, telehealth, and text messaging services.[30] Reportedly a travel website allowed North Koreans to plan vacations within the country.[47]

Network access[edit]

Kwangmyong is only designed to be accessible from within North Korea.[30][48][49] Access is available within major cities and counties, as well as universities and major industrial and commercial organizations.[35] For example, a library at the Pyongyang Sci-Tech Complex provides access to the intranet, and is reportedly used by different types of people, including factory workers, children and researchers for various purposes.[30] The intranet is also accessible from another library at the Grand People's Study House.[31]

The first "internet café" (or "intranet cafe") in North Korea was opened in Pyongyang, where one may access the country's intranet services. It opened in 2002, near Kwangbok station, and has about 100 computers.[50][51][31] It was opened by a Seoul company named Hoonnet, and a North Korean company named Jangsaeng General Trade Company.[8][52] These cafes, also known as "PC rooms" or "Information Technology Stores", began appearing across North Korea as soon as the early 2000s, and can be accessed for a fee.[9][14][18] The cafes provide other paid services as well, such as computing classes. As of 2005, the price for accessing these services was considered prohibitively expensive for the average North Korean citizen, according to Daily NK.[53]

The process of installing an approved personal computer in North Korean homes which would be capable of accessing the intranet requires inspection and authorization from local government authorities.[9][19][54][55] As of 2010, an estimated 200,000 such personal computers were in Pyongyang private homes, and access to the Kwangmyong is more common among people in cities compared to those in rural areas.[9][56]

Kwangmyong has 24-hour unlimited access by dial-up telephone line.[35] As of 2013, a number of Android-based tablet computer products, including the Samjiyon tablet computer, can be purchased in North Korea that give access to Kwangmyong.[57] A 2017 estimate put the amount of mobile phones in North Korea at between 2.5 and 3 million.[30] In 2020, another estimate put the amount of mobile phone users at 4.5 million.[58] In recent years, these have been the more common way for North Koreans to access websites on the Kwangmyong intranet. Access to the global Internet or phone numbers outside of North Korea is not permitted.[30][48][59][60] Like personal computers, phones must be approved by authorities.[30][61]

In 2018, North Korea unveiled a new Wi-Fi service called Mirae ("Future") which allowed mobile devices to access the intranet network in Pyongyang.[62]

Languages[edit]

The network uses Korean as the main interface language, though the government's web portal (Naenara), is multilingual.[49][63] There is a dictionary available to users for translation between Korean and Russian, Chinese, English, French, German and Japanese, with a database containing at least 1,700,000 words, to assist users who may not be familiar with foreign languages.[64]

Different websites on the intranet may be available in different sets of languages. A website that sells postage stamps is available in Korean, English, and Chinese.[15] The writings of the Kim family are available in Korean, Japanese, Russian, and Chinese.[17]

Information control[edit]

Kwangmyong is designed only to be used within North Korea, and is referred to as an "intranet".[49] Kwangmyong prevents domestic users within North Korea from freely accessing foreign content or information and typically prevents foreigners from accessing domestic content.[16][42] According to Daily NK, it "prevents the leak of classified data" and "functions as a form of information censorship, preventing undesirable information from being accessed".[65] Thus, sensitive topics and information are unlikely to surface on Kwangmyong due to the absence of a link to the outside world and the censorship that occurs. Kwangmyong is maintained and monitored by government-related entities.[66] However, large amounts of material from the global Internet ends up on Kwangmyong, following processing.[29][54] The operating systems of government-approved phones reject access to any applications that are not also approved by the government.[30]

While foreigners in North Korea are generally not allowed to access Kwangmyong, they may have access to the global Internet.[16][42][43][66][67] For security reasons networks with Internet and intranet access are air gapped so that computers with Internet access are not housed in the same location as computers with Kwangmyong access.[6]

Given that there is no direct connection to the outside Internet, unwanted information cannot enter the network. Information is filtered and processed by government agencies before being hosted on the North Korean Intranet.[68] Myanmar and Cuba also use a similar network system that is separated from the rest of the Internet, and Iran has been reported as having future plans to implement such a network, though it is claimed that it would work alongside the Internet and would not replace it.[69][70][71]

See also[edit]

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External links[edit]