There are more than 140 million .com and .net domains on the internet. There's also millions of websites for each country code top-level domain, or ccTLD, such as .de for Germany, .cn for China and so on.
North Korea, one of the most closed-off countries in the world, is not a huge fan of the internet and the web, and we had no idea how many websites the country had registered for its own top-level domain, .kp—until today.
On Tuesday, apparently by mistake, North Korea misconfigured its nameserver, essentially a list that holds information on all of the domains that exist for .kp, allowing anyone to query it and get the list.
In other words, a snafu by North Korea's system administrators allowed anyone to ask the country's nameserver: "can I have all of your information on this domain?" and get an answer, giving everyone a peek into the strange world of North Korea's web.
"Now we have a complete list of domain names for the country and it's surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) very small," Matt Bryant, a security engineer who found out about the mistake, told Motherboard in an email.
"We didn't think there was much in the way of internet resources in North Korea, and […] we were right."
North Korea has only 28 registered domains, according to the leaked data.
"We didn't think there was much in the way of internet resources in North Korea, and according to these leaked zone files, we were right," Doug Madory, a researcher at Dyn, a company that monitors internet use and access around the world, told Motherboard.
Some of the sites aren't reachable, perhaps because after Bryant discovered them, they are being deluged with traffic.
"I hope for the head of the NK chief propaganda minister that the grand divine dictator's internet does not break down with all the traffic from Hacker News," a user on Hacker News joked.
Most of the websites seem pretty banal, such as the site of the state-owned Air Koryo airline, or that of the Kim Il Sung University. Others, such as the site of the official newspaper of North Korea's communist party, give us a glimpse of the government's powerful propaganda machine.
"Kim Jong Un Sends Birthday Spreads to Veteran Scholars," reads one headline.
Another proclaims: "Narcotic-related Crimes Increase among S. Korean Youngsters."
Some users of Hacker News have been able to visit other sites that seem to be unreachable for me. One user, for example, wrote that friend.com.kp seems to be a Facebook clone (no, not that weird Facebook clone we discovered months ago), portal.net.kp appears to be a Yahoo clone, and korfilm.com.kp looks like a clone of movie4k, a piracy website.
Bryant explained that he caught the mistake and downloaded the data because he monitors all top level domains for these kinds of issues, and to get a peek into what countries are doing with their DNS, or domain name servers, which are essentially the internet's phone book. Bryant said that this kind of data is often kept secret by some countries, so it's valuable to grab it while it's available.
"The shorter version is just that I'm a nerd who's obsessed with DNS," he said.
Thanks to his nerdery, we got a peek into North Korea's small, and mundane, web.
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