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

NDP leader Rachel Notley is calling on the UCP to make a public inquiry into the COVID-19 outbreak at Olymel. (Facebook screenshot)
Notley calls for Olymel inquiry as plant reopens

Union also asks for further consideration to delay opening

Protesters
UPDATE: Rally held outside Red Deer court for slain central Alberta man

Tyler John Campbell charged with second-degree murder for December 2019 homicide

(Contributed image).
Deadline extended for arts scholarship applications for Red Deer-area students

Red Deer Arts Council will accept applications until March 15

Hog slaughter operations resumed on Thursday at Red Deer’s Olymel plant, which was closed for two weeks to curb the spread of COVID-19 among workers. Three employee deaths resulted from the latest outbreak. (Advocate file photo).
Hog slaughtering operations gear up again at Red Deer’s Olymel plant

Workers begin to return after 14-day closure due to COVID-19 outbreak

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says the greater lag time between first and second doses will allow more Albertans to be effectively vaccinated sooner. (File photo)
Alberta extends time between vaccine doses means more people to get shot sooner

National Advisory Committee on Immunization says doses can be to up to four months apart

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser at Health Canada, holds a press conference in Ottawa on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. Canada’s chief medical adviser says her department is constantly receiving and reviewing any data on vaccines and COVID-19 variants and will be quickly ready to authorize needed boosters when they’re ready. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Health Canada says vaccine boosters will be approved more easily

OTTAWA — Health Canada says it won’t require new clinical trial data… Continue reading

Unifor national president Jerry Dias speaks during a press conference in Toronto on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Dias says Air Canada is pledging passenger refunds as negotiations over federal aid for airlines drag on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Unifor’s Dias says Air Canada holding to refund pledge as aid negotiations drag on

OTTAWA — Unifor president Jerry Dias says Air Canada continues to promise… Continue reading

Lionel Desmond (front row, far right) was part of the 2nd battalion, of the Royal Canadian Regiment, based at CFB Gagetown and shown in this 2007 handout photo taken in Panjwai district in between patrol base Wilson and Masum Ghar in Afghanistan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Facebook-Trev Bungay MANDATORY CREDIT
Desmond inquiry: social worker reveals details about former soldier’s family life

PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — An inquiry in Nova Scotia is hearing testimony… Continue reading

Seniors arrive for their COVID-19 vaccination at a clinic in Olympic Stadium in Montreal on March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Nova Scotia eases COVID-19 restrictions; cases creep up in Ontario

Nova Scotia is easing public-health restrictions in and around Halifax, while new… Continue reading

Infrastructure and Communities Minister Catherine McKenna stands near a bus as she waits to start an announcement at a public transit garage in Ottawa, Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Liberals tap $2.5B of promised transit dollars for zero-emission buses

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are setting aside some of the billions… Continue reading

Canada’s Eliot Grondin looks on after competing in a men’s snowboard cross heat at the Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Grondin continued his strong season with his first career World Cup snowboard cross victory on Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canadian Eliot Grondin captures gold at World Cup snowboard cross event

BAKURIANI, Georgia — Canada’s Eliot Grondin continued his strong season with his… Continue reading

Most Read