This Facebook Clone Appears to Be Hosted in North Korea
A web analytics firm traced this social network to North Korea—and anyone can sign up.
Someone in North Korea appears to have created a Facebook clone, according to an internet analytics company that traced the site's DNS to the notoriously isolated country.
Right now, anyone in any country can make an account on the unnamed site—the current title just says "Welcome to Our Social Network."
Doug Madory, a researcher at Dyn, a company that monitors internet use and access around the world, says that the site's DNS resolves to North Korea's Domain Name System, the servers that convert domain names to IP addresses. DNS is often referred to as the "address book of the internet."
Dyn regularly reports on internet outages and anomalies in isolated or conflict-ridden parts of the world. Following the Sony hack in 2014, for instance, Madory discovered that North Korea's internet had been knocked offline a day after President Obama promised to seek revenge for the hack.
Madory says he discovered the site using Dyn's analytics tools.
"It seems like it's brand new," Madory told me. "Very few websites resolve to the North Korean address space, and this one does."
Madory says he doesn't know who set the website up, but if you click around it for a while, you'll see that it's a pretty faithful clone of Facebook, complete with a newsfeed, likes, and messaging service. The site is functional—I friended Madory and sent several messages back and forth, posted on his wall, and uploaded a profile picture. Right now, there are only a handful of test accounts on the site.
"It's a generic Facebook clone you can buy and setup—it looks like it's meant to be used inside companies," he said.
The site is in English, which Madory says is likely a result of the person using the off-the-shelf phpDolphin software.
Other clues show up in the site's URL—starcon.net.kp. Starcon is a South Korean company that builds English-language websites for startups. Motherboard has reached out to the company to see if it has any involvement with the site. Madory says he tried to access the site using a VPN in Seoul, South Korea, but said the site was blocked (South Korea blocks most sites using the North Korean top level domain .kp).
"It seems kind of weird that they would build this, but maybe they did," Madory said.
Finally, all new posts to the site say they were posted "30 minutes ago." North Korea created its own time zone in 2015 that is offset by 30 minutes.
North Korea is one of the least-connected countries in the world. Madory estimates that there are "low hundreds" of internet users in the country, most of them government officials. In April, North Korea formally banned Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
To speculate a bit, it's possible that North Korea is testing a social network that it will eventually make available only within the country's closely monitored intranet, which allows access to several government websites. Such a move wouldn't be unprecedented for a communist government—Cuba has its own Facebook clone that only works within the country.
North Korea also notoriously created its own Linux-based operating system, called Red Star OS.
Running a website using a South Korean company's name and a North Korean domain makes me think the site is most likely not a South Korean outreach or propaganda effort, but with this part of the world, that's always a possibility.
For now, you can go register a profile on "Our Social Network," though Madory thinks it'll probably be taken offline in short order.