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North Korea Opens Second Internet Connection via Russia

Previously funneling its entire traffic through China, Pyongyang now has a second provider, owned by the Russian government.

3 October 2017

A Russian state-owned telecommunications company has supplied North Korea with a new Internet connection, expanding Pyongyang's capacity to conduct and protect itself from cyberattacks.

 

Russian company TransTeleCom is providing the new service, which became active Sunday, as first reported by the website 38 North, a project by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University

 

Thanks to the service, the regime led by Kim Jong-Un (pictured) now has an alternative route to access the web. Previously, the country’s entire traffic was funneled through a China Unicom link, which has been in operation since 2010.

 

The move boosts North Korea’s online strength amid ongoing tensions with the United States sparked by its nuclear development program. In recent years, Pyongyang has also been subject to repeated accusations by the West – which the regime has denied – of high-profile cyberattacks against banks, Sony Pictures, as well as the worldwide WannaCry ransomware attack.

 

“In practical terms, [having multiple connections] will allow additional resiliency if one of those connections were to be rendered inactive for any number of reasons,” Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at Oracle Dyn, told The Washington Post.

 

TransTeleCom will now handle the majority of North Korean traffic, roughly 60 percent, with China Unicom being responsible for the remaining 40 percent, Reuters reports, citing Dyn.

 

A classroom in North Korea's capital Pyongyang. Image by (stephan) /Flickr.

 

In a statement, a spokesman for TransTeleCom did not confirm or deny a new routing deal with North Korea.

 

“TTK has historically had a backbone network interface with North Korea under an agreement with Korea Posts and Telecommunications Corp struck in 2009,” the statement read.

 

According to The Washington Post, TransTeleCom is part of the state-owned Russian railway operator, which has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 

  • Relying on a single route to access the internet has previously put North Korea “in a precarious situation,” as Martyn Williams of 38 North wrote. The country lost its web connection in December 2014, after the cyberattack on Sony Pictures for which Pyongyang was blamed. Some suggested the U.S. government might have engineered the failure in retaliation.

 

  • The Washington Post reported that, as part of a broader campaign to put pressure on Kim Jong-un’s regime, the U.S. military’s Cyber Command targeted hackers in North Korea’s military spy agency with so-called denial of service attacks.

 

  • The Cyber Command operation was due to end on Saturday, before North Korea was given a new link by Russia. With two internet connections, Pyongyang will now be more resilient to such threats.

Compiled by Peter Georgiev

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