Key North Korean websites mostly back online after shutdown amid tension over Sony hack

Key North Korean websites suffered intermittent outages Tuesday after a nearly 10-hour shutdown that followed a U.S. vow to respond to a crippling cyberattack on Sony Pictures that Washington blames on Pyongyang.

SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — Key North Korean websites suffered intermittent outages Tuesday after a nearly 10-hour shutdown that followed a U.S. vow to respond to a crippling cyberattack on Sony Pictures that Washington blames on Pyongyang.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the Internet stoppage in one of the least-wired and poorest countries in the world, but outside experts said it could be anything from a cyberattack to a simple power failure. The White House and the State Department declined to say whether the U.S. government was responsible.

Even if a cyberattack had caused the shutdown, analysts said, it would largely be symbolic since only a tiny number of North Koreans are allowed on the Internet – a fraction of Pyongyang’s staunchly loyal elite, as well as foreigners.

Though it denies responsibility for the Sony hack, North Korea’s government has called it a “righteous deed” and made clear its fury over Sony’s film “The Interview,” a comedy that depicts the assassination of the North’s authoritarian leader, Kim Jong Un, the head of a 1.2 million-man army and the focus of an intense cult of personality.

South Korean officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of office rules, said the North’s official Korean Central News Agency and the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, which are the main channels for official North Korean news, had both gone down. But the websites were back up later Tuesday. Among the posts glorifying the ruling Kim family included one about Kim Jong Un visiting a catfish farm.

U.S. computer experts described Monday’s Internet outage in the North as sweeping and progressively worse. Jim Cowie, chief scientist at Dyn Research, an Internet performance company, said in an online post that the North came back online after a 9 1/2-hour outage. But the company said the North later suffered two outages, one lasting half an hour.

Possible causes for the shutdown include an external attack on its fragile network or even just power problems, Cowie wrote. But, he added, “We can only guess.”

The outage was probably more inconvenient to foreigners, who can access the Internet through 3G networks, than to North Korean residents, most of whom have never gone online. There are only about 1,000 Internet Protocol addresses in North Korea for a population of 25 million, South Korean analysts say. The privileged are also allowed to view a self-contained domestic Intranet that carries state media propaganda and a limited amount of information pulled and censored from the real Internet.

North Korea did not immediately release a response to the shutdown. But a commentary carried in state media Tuesday was filled with characteristic rhetoric, criticizing what it called a failed U.S. policy on Pyongyang and comparing the United States to the Roman Empire, which, it said, “was thrown into a dumping ground of history as it collapsed while seeking prosperity through aggression and war.”

Last year, North Korea suffered similar brief Internet shutdowns of websites at a time of nuclear tensions with the U.S., South Korea and other countries. North Korea blamed Seoul and Washington for the outages.

President Barack Obama has said the U.S. government expects to respond to the Sony hack, which he described as an expensive act of “cyber vandalism” by North Korea.

Obama did not discuss details, and it was not immediately clear whether the Internet connectivity problems represented the retribution. The U.S. government regards its offensive cyber operations as highly classified.

U.S. options for acting against North Korea are limited. Although some analysts believe there are more severe financial measures that can be taken by Washington, the country already faces massive international and U.S. sanctions over its repeated nuclear and rocket tests.

The hack has been a nightmare for Sony, which cancelled plans to release “The Interview” after a group of hackers made threats against theatres that planned to show it.

North Korea has promoted the development of science and technology as a means of improving its moribund economy.

More than a million people use mobile phones in North Korea. The network covers most major cities, but users cannot call outside the country or receive calls from outside. The North’s Intranet gives access to government-sanctioned sites and works with its own browsers, search engine and email programs, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta reported an additional 1,854 cases of COVID-19 Thursday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories)
Red Deer has 289 active cases of COVID-19

Province now has 17,743 active cases

The Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre in Red Deer has new owners. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Cambridge Hotel in Red Deer has new ownership group

‘They’re making an investment in this iconic hotel for the future,’ says general manager Gil Vallee

The new Gasoline Alley Farmers Market officially opened on Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Gasoline Alley brewery a collaboration between brewers and farmers

Red Deer County’s newest brewery has been built from the ground up… Continue reading

RDA court
Mountie allegedly sexually assaulted by another officer begged a superior not to tell anyone

Female officer alleges she was assaulted at house party in 2012

The central zone experienced a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases Thursday, rising from 454 to 508 active cases over the past 24 hours, with 10 people in hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Alberta government makes request to Canadian Red Cross for field hospitals

The Alberta Government has examined the possibility of needing help from the… Continue reading

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

Defence lawyer Boris Bytensky, clockwise from top left, father of the accused Vahe Minassian, Justice Anne Malloy, and defendant Alek Minassian are shown during a murder trial conducted via Zoom videoconference, in this courtroom sketch on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. The key witness for the defence in Toronto’s van attack trial is set to testify for the fourth straight day today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Key witness for defence to testify for fourth day in van attack trial

TORONTO — The key witness for the defence in Toronto’s van attack… Continue reading

People take part in a protest called ‘Justice for Joyce’ in Montreal, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, where they demanded justice for Joyce Echaquan and an end to systemic racism. Two months after Echaquan’s death at a Joliette hospital, the head of the regional health authority that runs the hospital, Daniel Castonguay, has been removed from his post. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Head of regional health authority where Indigenous woman died removed from post

MONTREAL — Two months after the death of Joyce Echaquan in a… Continue reading

Signage for the Distress Centre in Calgary, Alta., is shown on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Distress Centre Calgary says suicide-related calls, texts and chats were up 66 per cent in October compared with the same month in 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘Dealing with a lot:’ Suicide crisis calls mount during COVID-19 pandemic

CALGARY — Hannah Storrs has needed to take more breaks than usual… Continue reading

Nancy McInerney, Kevin Martin, Olds Mayor Michael Muzychka, Chelsea Carey and MLA Nathan Cooper pose for a photo during the ticket launch for the Grand Slam of Curling Champions Cup in Olds from April 29 to May 3 in October. The event has been rescheduled for 2022. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Olds misses out on Champions Cup again, event penciled in to return in 2022

They say waiting is the hardest part for curling fans in central… Continue reading

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

Mikael Kingsbury, of Canada, trains during the FIS Freestyle World Cup skiing competition Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Park City, Utah. Kingsbury will miss moguls races for the first time in his World Cup career after suffering a back injury in training on Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeff Swinger
Canadian moguls star Mikael Kingsbury out four to six weeks with back injury

MONTREAL — Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury will miss moguls races for the first… Continue reading

Detail of James Wilson Morrice's "LaPlage."
James Wilson Morrice canvas outperforms at auction with more than million-dollar sale

A canvas by Montreal-born artist James Wilson Morrice exceeded expectations with a… Continue reading

Most Read