In Depth

North Korea back online: did US bring down the internet?

Experts sceptical over whether the US was behind North Korea's internet blackout

North Korea's internet was back up on Tuesday after a nine-hour disruption, Dyn Research, a company that monitors internet performance said.

The communist state appeared to come under sustained cyber attack soon after President Barack Obama warned that the US would "respond proportionally" to a massive hack at Sony Pictures, which led to the cancellation of Seth Rogan film The Interview, about North Korea. The FBI believes that Pyongyang was behind the attack.

Matthew Prince, president of CloudFlare, a performance and security company, told CNN that for nine hours "all the routes to get to North Korea just disappeared. It's as if North Korea got erased from the global map of the internet."

The blackout appears to be the worst that North Korea has ever experienced. The country has historically enjoyed a very stable connection, although only a small percentage of the population have internet access. Additionally, North Korea's internet structure is not sophisticated, making it a relatively easy target.

The timing of the disruption has raised suspicions that an external power – possibly either the US or South Korea – launched a "demonstration strike" against North Korea, The Times says. South Korea's nuclear power plant operator has recently been hacked and some have blamed North Korea for that.

The US government's cyber operations are highly classified, The Guardian says. Prior to the attack, state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the US would not discuss "possible response options" in the wake of the Sony hack. But she added: "As we implement our responses, some will be seen, some may not be seen.”

North Korea insists that it had no involvement with the Sony Pictures hack, but has applauded the attack. And when asked if the country had been involved in the immediate aftermath of the attack a spokesman for the North Korean government replied: "Wait and see."

Not everyone is convinced that the US was directly involved in North Korea's internet blackout. Russell Brandom, writing for The Verge says that the timing of the attack "doesn't add up". North Korea has been experiencing denial of service attacks for a full week, Brandom notes, but the FBI didn't point the finger at Pyongyang over the Sony attack until Thursday.

If Obama had ordered a cyber attack on North Korea, notes Dan Holden of Atlas, it would have taken just seconds to commence, not days – and the outage would have been for much longer.

"I'm quite sure that this is not the work of the US government," Holden says. "Much like a real world strike from the US, you probably wouldn't know about it until it was too late. This is not the modus operandi of any government work."

Matthew Prince of CloudFare agreed, telling CNN: "It's highly unlikely it's the United States. More likely it's a 15-year-old in a Guy Fawkes mask."

The US declined to comment on the disruption.

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