The History Behind North Korea's Official Website

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Editor's Note: When we linked to some amusing code at the official homepage of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (a.k.a. North Korea) last week we promised an update if we heard back from the man who created the site. We spoke with him this morning for about half an hour about the site, Internet access in North Korea, and the Supreme Leader himself.


North Korea's official homepage went live in December 2000. The site was the brainchild of Alejandro Cao de Benós, a Spanish IT consultant, who first became interested in North Korean politics and history around the age of 15, at the beginning of the nineties.

"I had my first North Korean friends in Spain and, from this initial friendship, I created a friendship organization at a local level," he said. After spending years learning about and developing a relationship with the government, he pitched the idea for the site to North Korean officials, who eventually gave their approval.

A month after the site launched, Cao de Benós created his Korean Friendship Association, a cultural organization, in response to the influx of interest he was receiving from people around the globe. He claims the organization, which has its annual meeting in Barcelona this year, has around 9,500 members in more than 120 countries. The site also receives an average of four to five million page views a month and many times more when North Korean nuclear issues dominate the news cycle, Cao de Benós said.

When the site launched, it had a budget of $150 a month, all of which was paid out-of-pocket. (North Korea has never funded the site, Cao de Benós said.) But the cost is much higher now thanks to bandwidth and security demands. Security is managed by North Korea's consular in Norway and, over the years, the site has been the subject of several distributed denial of service attacks, in which a network of computers bombards a server in order to overwhelm it. Most recently, the site was attacked, futilely, for about half an hour six to seven months ago, Cao de Benós said.

"Until now, we haven't received politically motivated attacks, but the one thing is we are banned in South Korea," he said. The site is also inaccessible from North Korea, where connectivity is extremely slow and the country's Internet is self-contained and isolated from the rest of the world. The Web is used mainly for e-mailing, he said.

Cao de Benós, who is in Bangkok this week meeting with Thai companies interested in doing business with North Korea, is an honorary North Korean citizen though he is ethnically Spanish. NGO's and individuals in the United States also have plans to work on projects with North Korea, Cao de Benós said, but he wouldn't name them for fear of alerting the United States government to their plans.

Since becoming a special delegate of the government in 2002, he has spent roughly half of his time in North Korea, where he's met Kim Jong Il several times. He describes him as "a person of a very military nature, very humble, very direct," and, unsurprisingly, Cao de Benós had nothing but praise for his leadership. He heads to Pyongyang on Sunday and will stay there until August 26th.
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Niraj Chokshi is a former staff editor at TheAtlantic.com, where he wrote about technology. He is currently freelancing and can be reached through his personal website, NirajC.com. More

Niraj previously reported on the business of the nation's largest law firms for The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper. He has also been published in The Hartford Courant, The Seattle Times and The Age, in Melbourne, Australia. He's also a longtime programmer and sometimes website designer.
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