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North Korea gets major internet upgrade from Russian firm

Image credit: reuters

North Korea’s internet connection has been reinforced by Russian telecommunications firm TransTeleCom (TTC), which has started routing traffic from the reclusive state, prompting fears from cyber-security experts that it will boost that country's ability to conduct cyber attacks.

TTC is a full subsidiary of Russian national railway operator Russian Railways and it owns one of the largest fibre-optic networks.

North Korea has been blamed for a string of worldwide cyber attacks in the past, including the WannaCry cyber attack in May that hit major institutions across the world including the NHS and an attack on Sony after the company released the film ‘The Interview’, in which the main characters assassinate the communist state’s leader Kim Jong-Un.

According to internet monitoring company Dyn Research, TTC started routing internet from around 17:38 local Pyongyang time on Sunday evening.

The connections appeared on internet routing databases which map the thousands of connections between telecom providers and enable computers to figure out the best route to a destination.

Since 2010, North Korea has relied on connecting to the internet along one single route, handled by Chinese state-owned firm China Unicom.

North Korea’s internet is limited to a few hundred connections, but these few connections are vital for coordinating the country’s cyber attacks, said Bryce Boland, FireEye’s chief technology office for the Asia-Pacific region.

Boland also confirmed the new connection, which was first reported by 38 North, a project of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Boland said the Russian connection would enhance North Korea’s ability to command future cyber attacks which often originate from computers located outside of the country but are remotely controlled.

“The addition of Russian transit would create new internet path out of the country, increasing its resilience and international bandwidth capacity,” said Doug Madory, who analyses global Internet connectivity at Dyn Research.

TTC typically builds its fibre-optic networks alongside the railway lines operated by its parent company.

In May 2006, TTC and North Korea’s Ministry of Communications signed an agreement for the construction and joint operation of a fiber-optic transmission line in the section of the Khasan–Tumangang railway checkpoint, the first direct land link between Russia and North Korea.

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