North Korea’s Internet was temporarily been knocked offline, according to a British cybersecurity researcher.

Junade Ali monitors a range of different North Korean web and email servers, and he told Reuters on Thursday that the Asian nation’s Internet experienced its largest outages in months, after similar service interruptions in January were blamed on suspected cyber attacks.

Like the suspected attacks in January, Thursday’s outages reportedly comes amid increased missile launches and other military activities by North Korea, which was condemned by the United States and its allies.

Ballistic missiles

In October North Korea launched a suspected new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which flew over Japan, sparking emergency warnings in northern Japan to shelter indoors.

The launch appeared to be a deliberate escalation by North Korea to get the attention of Tokyo and Washington.

Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida at the time said the launches were “outrageous and absolutely intolerable”, and Japan had lodged an immediate protest with Pyongyang via Beijing.

But North Korea did not stop there.

Pyongyang also fired 25 missiles of various kinds – including one that landed close to South Korea’s waters.

It was the first time since the 1945 division of the peninsula that North Korea weapons had landed so close to South Korea.

When one of those North Korean missiles flew in the direction of a populated South Korean island, it triggered air raid sirens and forced local residents to evacuate.

South Korea responded by launching guided air-to-surface missiles from jet fighters over the maritime border with the North.

Internet outage

Now nearly a month after the dust settled on those missile launches, North Korea’s Internet was reportedly been knocked offline for a time.

According to Reuters, Internet access is strictly limited in North Korea and it is not known how many people there have direct access to the global internet, but estimates generally place the figure at a small fraction – well below 1 percent – of the population of about 25 million.

Reuters quoted cyber researcher Junade Ali as saying that at least two waves of outages struck the isolated country’s internet over a period of roughly 2.5 hours, peaking with surges in network stress that made North Korea’s entire internet unreachable.

“This isn’t like a single web server is being taken offline,” Ali reportedly said, citing monitoring records that he shared with Reuters. “The network stress is so great their Domain Name System (DNS) servers have been taken offline and eventually the key routers allowing traffic in and out of the country entirely.”

“From my experience and what I’ve seen before from monitoring their networks, I’d be surprised if this wasn’t an attack,” Ali reportedly said.

North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website and Naenara, which is the official portal for the North Korean government, appeared to see the brunt of the suspected attack, before it became so great the entire internet was taken offline, Ali was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Other major websites affected included the Air Koryo national airline and major internal email servers.

North Korea’s Internet has been taken offline before.

In 2015 the US admitted that an Internet blackout in North Korea was in revenge for that country’s earlier devastating hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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