What do Top Gear, Parts Unknown, Tiny Troopers and pornography have in common?
They appear to be among the favorite downloads in Pyongyang, data analysis shows.
Open source data provided by the torrent network analysis site Scan Eye has provided a list of recent Torrent files apparently downloaded from IP addresses registered in Pyongyang.
The torrents are exclusively listed as coming from the Ryugyong-dong neighborhood in the northeast of the capital, and consist of a variety of content: pornography features prominently, as does the cookery-travel program Parts Unknown, British motoring program Top Gear, and mobile/computer games Tiny Troopers and Far Cry 3.
Tech experts were divided on what to conclusions to draw from the results.
While it is possible that the results could be due to individuals using a virtual private network (VPN) for the purposes of protecting their identity online, Ernesto Van Der Sar said that “the IP-addresses in question are registered to North Korea and there is no known VPN provider operating from that range.”
“This makes it likely that the traffic is indeed originating from the area,” Van Der Sar, editor of BitTorrent-focused blog TorrentFreak, told NK News. “Technically it’s always possible that the IP-address has been spoofed, but there are also entries that list the client ID which suggests that this is real.”
“The client ID suggests that Scaneye actually connected to this IP-address which excludes simple spoofing strategies,” he continued.
The Ryugyong-dong is an overwhelmingly administrative district, hosting the Ministry of Metal and the Pyongyang International Communications Center, which hosts the main office of Koryolink, North Korea’s mobile network provider. Koryolink is run by the Orascom Group’s Global Telecom Holding, an Egyptian conglomerate.
Every IP address registered in North Korea is listed as coming out of this neighborhood, but the distinct lack of Korean-language content suggests that it is not locals doing the downloading.
But Martyn Williams, who runs the North Korea Tech blog, expressed skepticism that the torrents were actually being downloaded by individuals in North Korea, saying “the shows being torrented seem unlikely to be hits in North Korea and they are so varied that they appear random.”
“If any of it is real, I expect it’s foreigners in Pyongyang,” he said, “but I really wonder whether people would be bothered to torrent and if the bandwidth would support it.”
Sebastian Anthony, a senior editor at ExtremeTech, told NK News that “it’s totally possible that people in North Korea are torrenting games, movies, TV shows. It’s probably the easiest way to get them into the country.”
Anthony said those behind the downloads were “probably people working at big offices, governmental agencies, universities, etc,” which could explain why the torrents were listed as being from one neighborhood. “It could also be just one or two people downloading lots of stuff – hard to say.
“Someone might’ve masqueraded/spoofed their IP address somehow (but unlikely)”.
Internet access in North Korea is sporadic: Most citizens can use an intranet system called Kwangmyong, which offers no connection to the Internet beyond the DPRK’s borders.
Only high-ranking officials are allowed unfettered access to the global Internet.
Additional reporting: Hamish Macdonald
Photo credit: Eric Lafforgue
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