North Korea knows it must enter the information age to survive in the global economy. And it opened that door just a crack recently for The Associated Press to reveal a self-contained, tightly controlled Intranet called Kwangmyong, or “Bright.”
Content? Restricted to the point that the use of Bright hardly even needs to be watched by officials.
Chats and email? Monitored.
How about the OS? It’s “Red Star,” now available in version 3.0, which looks a lot like the Microsoft operating system, but is used only in North Korea. There’s a Firefox-style search engine called “Our Country” that helps users navigate around an estimated 1,000 to 5,500 websites, mostly for universities, government offices, libraries and state-run corporations. Most North Koreans have no access to the Internet at all.
“The goal is to reap the benefits of information technology, while keeping out potentially corrosive foreign influences,” said Scott Bruce, a North Korea IT expert and analyst at the Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit CRDF Global.
One of the first things an outside observer notices at Kim Il Sung University is that the students are actually studying. Not wasting time on Facebook or Reddit, no BuzzFeed. In fact, the sites they surf most likely aren’t even on the Internet, but on the North-Korea-only Bright.
“I haven’t had a time when I’ve been allowed to use the Intranet — since the point is that it is not open to foreigners,” said Will Scott, a computer sciences instructor at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology who has worked about as closely with North Korea’s attempt to get wired as any other foreigner.
Through daily interactions with North Korean students at his university, however, Scott has been able to glean a general outline of what Bright is all about. “… This has a striking resemblance to the uses first made of the Internet in the U.S. when it was introduced in the ’80s.”
Technologically, he said, North Korea’s Intranet is a mini-Internet, with a combination of joint venture companies and vaguely government-affiliated labs that collectively maintain the core infrastructure that exists on the global Web. Graduate students and North Korean professors at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology are allowed to access the real Internet from a dedicated computer lab, similar to the e-library at Kim Il Sung University. They receive the same speed and unfiltered access that foreign instructors do, although everyone’s access is monitored.
Students’ emails must be reviewed and approved by one of the vice presidents of the university before they can be sent, which, Scott said, means they rarely use email.
Some experts believe that as more North Koreans become familiar with the benefits of going online — a trend that would seem inevitable if North Korea is to keep afloat in the information age — it will become increasingly difficult for the ruling regime to keep the IT dam from bursting.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Grant Montgomery.