Archive for the ‘Ministry of Post and Telecommunications’ Category

Friday fun: New stamps and wild speculation…

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Kim Jong-un has committed significant construction resources to improving the lives of children (particularly orphans) in the DPRK. Now you can share Kim Jong-un’s love of the children (sarcasm) with the people you know by collecting and sending stamps of the Songdowon International Children’s Camp and the new Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage:

STAMP-2015- Sondgowon-International-Children-Camp

STAMP-Pyongyang-Baby-Home Orphanage

Although the stamps are meant for foreign collectors, they are denominated as KPW 30. If the cost of a first class letter in the DPRK is 30 won, that translates into appx $.30 at the official rate and $.00375 at the black market rate (nearly 1/3 of a US penny).

But the Pyongyang Baby Home stamp booklet shows four stamps on a post card, so maybe the official price of sending a postcard is KPW120, or $1.20 at the official rate and $.015 at the black market rate. That seems a bit more reasonable, but it is still probably likely that, as in the USA, mail delivery is a drain on the government’s budget (subsidized activity). I wonder how hard it is to raise postal rates in the DPRK?

Luckily the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (체신성) does not have to rely on the cabinet for its complete budget. There is always the international stamp-collecting market…and a small venture known as KoryoLink.

I also doubt that any of the money generated from the sale of these stamps actually goes to supporting the budgets of the Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage and Songdowon International Children’s Camp, but you never know.


KoryoLink update

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Although KoryoLink’s corporate performance no longer appears in Orascom shareholder reports, Naguib Sawiris has given an interview in Forbes in which he offers some business details:

Sawiris has a 75% stake in Koryolink via his Orascom Telecom Media & Technology (OTMT) unit, with the remainder held by a company under the Ministry of Post & Telecommunications. He says revenues in 2012 should reach around €186 million ($145 million), with an average revenue per user of €8.6. The network only permits domestic calls and locally hosted data services. A separate cell network is available for foreigners in North Korea.

FORBES: How many subscribers does Koryolink have? How extensive is your coverage in DPRK?

NAGUIB SAWIRIS: Koryolink currently has more than 1.5 million subscribers. Coverage includes the capital Pyongyang in addition to 15 main cities, more than 100 small cities, and some highways and railways. Territory coverage is around 14%, and more than 90% population coverage. The subscriber base has been increasing at a very healthy rate from 950,000 at [year-end] 2011 to an estimated 1.7 million at [year-end] 2012.

FORBES: Under your joint venture with the Ministry of Telecommunications, when will Koryolink lose its exclusivity? What will happen after this period ends?

NS: Exclusivity was granted for a period of 4 years from launch. After the expiry of exclusivity in Dec. 2012, Koryolink received written confirmation that for an additional period of 3 years (until 2015) no foreign investors will be allowed in the mobile business. However, we are continuing to expand our network and services to further solidify our position [in order] to be ready for any possible competition.

FORBES: What is your role in the construction of the Ryugyong Hotel? What other real estate interests do you have in DPRK?

NS: This is a special investment that we are maintaining through our banking subsidiary in the DPRK, where Orascom has the right to operate this facility. The construction, repair and facade installations have all been completed last summer. We are planning to relocate Koryolink headquarters into the tower very soon to bring life to the building. There are no other real-estate investments in the DPRK, however, Orabank, our banking arm in DPRK, is actively working towards developing mobile-related businesses and projects.

Chris Green offers some great information (about which I have long wondered)  on the process required to acquire a cell phone:

First, the individual wishing to obtain a cell phone must go to his or her local Communications Technology Management Office (통신통화관리국 or CTMO; in provincial capitals only) or a subordinate arm of the same (in smaller cities) to obtain a three page application form. This form, once filled in, must be stamped by the Ministry of Public Security officer assigned to the individual’s workplace or, for those without official workplaces, attached to his or her local people’s unit.

Having paid off the public security official in cigarettes or cash (more often the former, according to this author’s sources, because it arouses less friction) he or she must submit the stamped form to the CTMO or equivalent, whereupon it is sent, with all the speed one would expect of the North Korean transportation network, to the Ministry of Communications in Pyongyang. At this point there is little else to be done but go away and pitch the proverbial tent, because at best it takes a month for the staff in the revolutionary capital to process the application.

Assuming, and it should not be assumed, that those checks done in Pyongyang don’t yield any incriminating evidence of wrongdoing (don’t forget, the North Korean legal system makes every adult a criminal in one way or another, something which can come back and haunt any individual whenever “rents” are desired), the individual will eventually be ordered back to his local communications office, whereupon he will be handed a payment form. He or she must then take this form to a bank, and engage with the separate, and no less inefficient, bureaucracy therein in order to pay the majority (though not all) of the cost of a phone and Koryolink network activation fee.[1]

The payment form, duly stamped by a functionary at the bank, must then be taken back to the CTMO or equivalent, whereupon it can be exchanged for half the stamped application form originally sought from the ministry in Pyongyang. Here, finally, the individual reaches a watershed moment: this form can actually be exchanged for a cellular telephone!

However, the pain is actually quite a long way short of being over. In a moment of uncharacteristic efficiency, the actual cell phone shop is often directly outside the communications office, but in a moment of karma-balancing inefficiency, it doesn’t open much, carries a limited amount of product and is pitifully understaffed. As a result, queues are long, as are waits. Assuming an individual lives long enough to reach the front of such a queue, he or she is finally offered the opportunity to hand over another $70-$100 and depart the scene with a brand new phone.

Writing in the Daily NK, Kim Kwang-jin explains how people are getting around this burdensome regulatory process:

Therefore, the source said, “Middlemen in larger cities are getting multiple phones activated in random people’s names and then taking them to smaller cities to sell. Alternatively, households that don’t have any problem getting that kind of approval are mobilizing the names of their entire families to get phones, which they are then selling on to the middlemen.”

“The end users are buying these cell phones for $300 to $500 from the middlemen or from private sellers. This saves them having to go to the trouble of applying to Koryolink,” he added.

A basic Koryolink phone can be purchased officially for roughly $270- $300, excluding bribes and extraneous costs. The price of one of these semi-legal phones depends on duration of use and model. The best product, the T1, a clamshell design, is the latest and costs more than $500. The next mid-range model is the T3, another clamshell; there is also a similarly priced phone with a slide design. The budget offerings are the T95 and T107. Differences in price are mostly attributable to differences in sound quality rather than the designs, sources assert.

In addition, there are also phones available for use within individual provinces. These products, which are similar to the so-called “city phones” that were briefly permitted in the late 90s but soon got withdrawn, cost just $70 at the time of writing.

Geoffrey See of Choson Exchange also offers some insight on Ora Bank’s mobile-related business projects:

However, it appears that Naguib, Chairman of Orascom, might have other ideas. In his words, “Orabank, our banking arm in DPRK, is actively working towards developing mobile-related businesses and projects.” The 3G network provides a platform for a range of other services that emerging market economies would need including remittances and payments through mobile banking and mobile payments. Given the primitive development of the services sector, mobile provides an opportunity for Orascom to upend the services industry in North Korea.

This was something I was originally looking at in North Korea. Payments are currently messy in the country. On a previous trip, I remembered an account of a North Korean trying to pay the handphone bill. Apparently the payment went to the wrong account, and the North Koreans spent the morning calling and shouting at some people to make the mistaken beneficiary return the money so that the payment could go to the right account. For what mobile banking and payments could potentially look like in North Korea, check out M-pesa.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang Calling For Egyptian Telecoms Tycoon Naguib Sawiris
Simon Montlake


KoryoLink update (sort of)

Friday, August 17th, 2012

It is getting harder to know specific information about the DPRK’s mobile phone network…such as how many subscribers have signed up or how revenues/profits are doing.

In December 2011 Orascom Telecom finalized a demerger and the KoryoLink portfolio (the DPRK’s 3G mobile phone network) was transferred to a new holding company, Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding S.A.E. (OTMT).

According to the Orascom Q1 2012 shareholder report (p15):

Under the terms of the VimpelCom transaction, VimpelCom, Weather II and OTH agreed on a demerger plan (the Demerger”) pursuant to which the Company‟s investments in certain telecom, media and technology assets (the “SpinOff Assets”), which were not intended to form part of the VimpelCom business going forward, would be transferred to a new company, Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding S.A.E. (“OTMT”). The Demerger was performed in accordance with the guidelines of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and in particular decree no. 124 of 2010 and was completed in December 2011. The split of OTH shares by the way of the Demerger resulted in OTH shareholders holding the same percentage interest in OTMT as they held in the Company. The Demerger plan was initially approved in a shareholders meeting dated 14 April 2011 and subsequently on 23 October 2011. Approval from the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority was received in December 2011.

As a result of the Demerger, during November and December 2011, ownership of the following Spin-Off Assets was  transferred from the Company to OTMT:


75% ownership in CHEO Technology Joint Venture Company, together with all other assets and businesses located in
North Korea;

95% ownership in Orabank NK;


Other than the reference above, the Q1 report does not mention KoryoLink or even the DPRK. As you would expect, KoryoLink is not mentioned in Orascom’s Q2 2012 Shareholder Report either.

OTMT (the new holding company) has a web page, however it contains remarkably little information. Here is what it has to say about KoryoLink:


A joint venture between OTH [Orascom Telecom Holdings] and the state-owned KPTC [Korea Post and Telecommunications Company] and included as part of the assets held by OTMT following the demerger. OTMT holds, a 75% stake in [Cheo Technology Joint Venture Company] with KPTC. The company is North Korea’s only 3G Mobile operator. By June 2011, Koryolink’s network covered more than 75% of North Korea’s population (estimated at 24.5 million).

Being the first company of its kind and scale in North Korea, koryolink established many precedents; a first of its kind call center to provide customer service; a launch announcement in major newspapers and on radio despite almost non-existent marketing and advertising industries; and the implementation of a koryolink advertising billboard, the first of its kind in Pyongyang.

KPTC is the “Korea Post and Telecommunications Company” which is nominally controlled by the DPRK’s Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.

This OTMT page shows five financial reports for the year, however, only one of them is in English (an audit by Deloitte in June 2012). All the other reports are in Arabic. The audit report includes aggregate financial information from “CHEO Technology (KoryoLink)”; however, it does not contain any detailed company information. Hopefully this will change in the future.

The OTMT web page does not mention OraBank at all.  According to this organization chart, however, it appears to be held by a separate holding company under the OTMT umbrella, the Oracap Holding Co./Oracap Far East Ltd.  I have not been able to find out much more than that.

Additional information welcome.


122 ROK ships affected by GPS jamming

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

UPDATE 4 (2012-5-31): Three arrested in South Korea over GPS jamming. According to the Choson Ilbo:

Spies in South Korea were involved in North Korea’s recent jamming of GPS signals, police said Wednesday. The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said it booked or arrested three men on espionage charges of collecting confidential military information to help the North.

They include a businessman identified only by his surname Lee who was formerly a prisoner of war from North Korea, a Korean-New Zealander identified as Kim, and another man who formerly worked for a defense contractor.

Export of electronic jamming devices to some countries including the North is banned.

Lee and Kim, who are engaged in trade activities in Nampo, North Korea and New Zealand, are suspected of attempting to hand over GPS jamming devices and radar systems to Pyongyang at the direction of a North Korean agent.

Police say they have footage of their meeting with the agent and a statement from Kim saying he received an order from the North.

Read previous posts on this topic below:



Associated Press in Pyongyang

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

UPDATE 5 (2012-1-17): The Associated Press is opening a Bureau in Pyongyang. Martyn Williams reports:

The Associated Press has opened a news bureau in Pyongyang making it the first western news agency to have a reporter and photographer based in the North Korean capital.

The bureau represents a coup for the AP over the competition, but its close cooperation with the state-run Korean Central News Agency, necessitated to realize the deal, brings with it questions over editorial independence.

AP President Tom Curley and KCNA President Kim Pyong Ho officially opened the bureau in Pyongyang on Monday. It came six months after the two met in New York and signed a basic agreement towards the office.

The bureau will be housed inside KCNA’s headquarters and will be permanently staffed by two North Koreans: reporter Pak Won Il and photographer Kim Kwang Hyon.

AP didn’t provide details of the background of the two and declined to say if they were on the payroll of AP or KCNA.

Regardless of their employment status, they were almost certainly trained in the North Korean media-slash-propaganda machine with books such as “The Great Teacher of Journalists” — a heavy tome filled with advice to journalists by Kim Jong Il. Their appointment would have been approved by North Korean authorities.

The two have already contributed to AP’s coverage over the last few weeks on the death of Kim Jong Il.

Pak was credited as providing details for several AP stories on the funeral, including “Thousands Gather In Snow To Mourn Kim Jong Il.” Kim Kwang Hyon is believed to be the photographer responsible for several unattributed photographs issued by AP of the funeral.

Video footage of the office released by KCNA shows pictures of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il hanging on the wall above some desks. A TV hangs on the wall and there also appears to be a refrigerator and microwave oven.

It’s this closeness with KCNA that has AP walking a delicate editorial line.

AP is based on a traditional of independent reporting, and KCNA is anything but independent. Its Japan-based website describes the agency as speaking “for the Workers’ Party of Korea and the DPRK government,” and its daily output is heavy with glorification of its leader and threats against South Korea and the U.S.

But when it comes to North Korea, KCNA is the only game in town.

North Korea has remained one of the few places in the world that has remained almost totally impenetrable to foreign journalists. Visits are strictly supervised and controlled, and information flow in and out of the country is just a trickle. This was demonstrated vividly in December when governments and media organizations were apparently unaware that anything was amiss in the days before the death of Kim Jong Il was announced.

Getting coverage from Pyongyang, albeit with assistance from the government’s news agency, is probably better than nothing.

The real payoff will come in the regular reporting trips by AP staffers that form part of the deal. Korea Bureau Chief Jean Lee and Chief Asia Photographer David Guttenfelder will oversee the bureau and are likely to continue visiting the country.

It also gives AP a leg up on competitors such as Reuters and AFP when major news breaks in Pyongyang, such as the recent death of Kim Jong Il.

UPDATE 4 (2011-9-29): The Associated Press has signed a deal for HD video from the DPRK. According to themselves (notice it is a new story not a press release!):

Associated Press President and Chief Executive Tom Curley said Thursday the agency has signed an exclusive deal to provide high definition news video from North Korea to broadcasters worldwide.

In a speech in Tokyo, Curley unveiled the three-year agreement with North Korean state broadcaster KRT and the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.

“Today’s announcement means that AP will be the only news agency to transmit broadcast quality HD video of key events in North Korea,” he said at the Japan National Press Club.

Associated Press Television News will also have exclusive rights to deliver HD video feeds for individual broadcasters wishing to transmit their own reports from North Korea.

The infrastructure will be established ahead of 2012, when the so-called Hermit Kingdom celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late leader Kim Il Sung.

The deal extends AP’s recent push into North Korea to a level unmatched by any other Western news organization.

AP announced in June that it had also signed a series of agreements with the Korea Central News Agency, including one for the opening of a comprehensive news bureau in Pyongyang.

Expected to launch early next year, the office would be the first permanent text and photo bureau operated by a Western news organization in the North Korean capital. It would build upon the AP’s existing video news bureau, which opened in Pyongyang in 2006.

In addition, the agencies signed a contract designating the AP as the exclusive international distributor of contemporary and historical video from KCNA’s archive. The agencies also plan a joint photo exhibition in New York next year. They already had an agreement between them to distribute KCNA photo archives to the global market, signed earlier this year.

“This is a historic and watershed development,” Curley said. “For AP, it extends further and deeper our global reach and shows the trust that is at the core of AP reporting. For the world, it means opening the door to a better understanding between the DPRK and the rest of the world.”

The latest deal also highlights AP’s broader digital transformation efforts in a rapidly evolving media landscape.

AP, which sees video as a critical part of its future, is investing at least $30 million into its video business. Under an 18-month plan, the agency is upgrading all infrastructure to eventually provide HD video that “will fit easily into digital platforms of any media customer anywhere.”

Curley told the group of Japanese journalists that while the U.S. is “ground zero” for the digital media shift, “the movement of information consumption to online platforms and devices is here to stay, and it will inevitably upend traditional forms of media everywhere in the world.”

Founded in 1846, the AP maintains bureaus in some 100 countries around the world and is the oldest and largest of the world’s major news agencies.

UPDATE 3 (2011-7-12): Reuters is also establishing a presence in the DPRK.

UPDATE 2 (2011-7-1): The AP is opening a bureau in Pyongyang.  According to

The Associated Press is to open a bureau in the North Korean capital Pyongyang, following an agreement with state news agency KCNA.

The new bureau will be the first permanent text and photo office operated by a Western news organisation in the North Korean capital. It follows the opening of an AP television office in the city five years ago.

Run by a notoriously secretive regime, North Korea also has a poor press freedom record. It is ranked 177 out of 178 countries on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Under the new agreement, AP will have exclusive global distribution of video content from the KCNA archive. The agreement has been negotiated over the past few months, with KCNA president Kim leading a delegation of executives to AP’s New York headquarters.

In March, chief executive Tom Curley and executive editor Kathleen Carroll were part of a delegation that traveled to Pyongyang.

Curley heralded the agreement as “historic and significant”.

“AP is once again being trusted to open a door to better understanding between a nation and the world. We are grateful for this opportunity and look forward to providing coverage for AP’s global audience in our usually reliable and insightful way.”

UPDATE 1 (2011-3-10): According to Yonhap, the AP is once again asking to open a bureau in Pyongyang:

Thee Associated Press (AP), one of the main news agencies in the U.S., has asked North Korean authorities to help it open a bureau in Pyongyang, a news report claimed Thursday.

Itar-Tass, a Russian news agency, reported from the North Korean capital that a delegation for AP, headed by its president and CEO Thomas Curley, made the request during its ongoing visit to Pyongyang.

Citing an informed Korean source, Itar-Tass reported that the AP delegation said opening a Pyongyang bureau “would make it possible to create in the United States an objective and truthful picture of events” taking place in the communist regime.

“However, there is no clarity so far on the issue of opening of the AP office,” the source was quoted as saying.

North Korea’s state media reported briefly on Tuesday of the arrival of the AP delegation, but didn’t elaborate on why AP was visiting and how long its delegation would stay.

A source in Seoul had earlier told Yonhap News Agency that Curley is scheduled to stay in Pyongyang until Friday and his visit may be aimed at trying to set up a news bureau in the reclusive state.

Among foreign news agencies, only Itar-Tass and China’s Xinhua have bureaus in Pyongyang, while a journalist from the People’s Daily newspaper of China is also based there.

Itar-Tass on Thursday said officials from Reuters, the London-based news agency, also visited Pyongyang earlier with a similar request.

AP Television News, the international video division of AP, opened a full-time office in Pyongyang in 2006, making it the first Western news organization to establish a permanent presence in North Korea. The Pyongyang office of APTN currently provides only video images.

Below is a report I posted in 2006 on the opening of the APTV office in Pyongyang.

ORIGINAL POST (2006-5-23): The Assoicated Press Television News is opening an office in Pyongyang. According to the Joong Ang Daily :

AP Television News, a British-based agency, opened a full-time office in North Korea yesterday, with three North Koreans to be on the permanent staff, said Toby Hartwell, marketing director of APTN in London.

With the bureau, the television service becomes the first Western news organization to provide regular coverage from the reclusive country.

The bureau’s staff will be recruited from the North’s state-run media. International staff from APTN will have frequent access to the country and work with them, Mr. Hartwell said.

Mr. Hartwell said APTN has been given access to the country, and he believes that will continue.

APTN is the international video division of the Associated Press. It delivers video content of breaking global news to broadcasters around the world.


DPRK accused in DDoS attack

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

According to Bloomberg:

North Korea was responsible for paralyzing the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation’s computer network in April in a second online attack in two months linked to the Kim Jong Il regime, South Korean prosecutors said.

Hackers used similar techniques employed in cyber assaults that targeted websites in South Korea and the U.S. earlier this year and in 2009, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said in an e-mailed statement today. The Unification Ministry criticized the “provocation” and urged North Korea to stop such attacks immediately.

The network of the bank better known in Korean as Nonghyup was shut down on April 12, keeping its almost 20 million clients from using automated teller machines and online banking services. In all of the three bouts of online attacks, a method called “distributed denial service” was used, according to the statement.

Under the DDoS tactic, malicious codes infect computers to trigger mass attacks against targeted websites, according to Ahnlab Inc. (053800), South Korea’s largest maker of antivirus software.

Nonghyup will spend 510 billion won ($477.2 million) by 2015 to boost network security, the bank said in an e-mailed statement. The company received 1,385 claims for compensation related to the network disruption as of May 2, and 1,361 of them have been settled, according to the statement.

North Korea’s postal ministry was responsible for the 2009 attacks, Won Sei Hoon, head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, told lawmakers in October that year.

Attacks in March this year targeted 40 South Korean websites, including at the presidential office, the National Intelligence Service, and Ministry of National Defense. They were traced to the same Internet Protocol addresses used in the 2009 episodes, South Korean police said last month.

The hackers prepared for the April 12 attack on Nonghyup for more than seven months, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said today.

According the Hankyoreh:

Prosecutors stated that a notebook computer belonging to an employee of the company managing the Nonghyup server became a so-called “zombie PC” after being infected in September 2010 by malicious code distributed by the North Korean Reconnaissance General Bureau, and that North Korea subsequently operated the notebook remotely to attack the Nonghyup computer network.

North Korea did not initially target Nonghyup, but the bank was exposed as a result, prosecutors explained.

As bases for this conclusion, prosecutors cited the fact that one of the IP addresses for the server ordering the attack was confirmed to be administered by the North Korean Reconnaissance General Bureau, along with the strong similarity between the malicious code and distribution methods with previous DDoS attacks concluded to be North Korea’s doing.

Some experts at security companies reacted with skepticism to the prosecutors’ contentions. One expert questioned the explanation that the parties behind the attack used the same overseas command server employed by hackers in the DDoS attacks for operating zombie PCs, noting that its IP address was blocked through the Korea Internet Security Agency.

A computer systems design expert said, “The back door program on the notebook used in the attack could not function if linked with Nonghyup’s internal network, which is cut off from the Internet.”

The argument is that it would have been effectively impossible for an outside party to precisely determine and attack Nonghyup’s computer system structure and work currents and those notebooks authorized for top access without assistance from an inside party.

When questioned about their evidence of North Korea’s direct involvement, prosecutors reiterated that they could not disclose the information because it was related to national security.

The story was also covered by the Daily NK and the AFP.

The Choson Ilbo reports that 200 additional infected computers have been discovered.

Authorities have discovered 200 more so-called zombie computers that have been infected with viruses North Korean hackers planted in September last year. They came across them in the process of investigating the laptop computer of an IBM employee that was used to paralyze the computer network of agricultural cooperative lender Nonghyup.

Prosecutors said Monday that the National Intelligence Service identified 201 port numbers that have been infected with viruses so that they can serve as zombie computers, and the IBM employee’s laptop is one of them. This means not only Nonghyup but any state agency could be the target of a North Korean cyber attack.

Growing Sophistication

South Korean authorities and computer experts say the Nonghyup incident demonstrates the increasing sophistication of North Korea’s cyber warfare capabilities. During a so-called distributed denial-of-service attack on July 7, 2009, North Korean hackers used 435 servers in 61 different countries to spread just one type of virus. During a DDoS attack in March this year, 746 servers in 70 countries were used to plant more than three different types of viruses. The cyber attack against Nonghyup involved a different virus which directly infiltrates the computer network of a bank and deletes not just data but its own tracks as well.

Authorities say finding the 200 zombie computers is as difficult as locating a mole planted by North Korean intelligence. As long as the zombie PCs remain dormant, it is impossible to trace them.

The Korea Herald raises points of skepticism:

Despite prosecutors’ announcement pinpointing North Korea as the culprit for the April 12 cyber attack, security experts say that it is difficult to identify its instigator given the complicated nature of the hacking process.

On Tuesday, investigators at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the North’s premier intelligence body, orchestrated the “unprecedented cyber terror” that paralyzed the banking system of the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, or Nonghyup, for several weeks.

They said that the conclusion came as the methods used in the previous two cyber attacks on a number of key South Korean government and business websites in July 2009 and in March last year were similar to the ones used in last month’s attack.

They also stressed that one of the Internet Protocol addresses used in the attack on the cooperative was identical to that used in last year’s attack.

Experts, however, said that evidence of North Korea’s involvement in the worst-ever cyber attack was too “weak” and only based on “circumstantial assumptions” and that the case could remain unaddressed forever given that identifying the hackers is extremely difficult.

First of all, experts pointed out that hackers usually change IP addresses frequently or use someone else’s address to disguise their identity. Thus, an IP address cannot serve as credible evidence to identify the culprit.

“It appears that prosecutors believe the owner of an empty house with a certain address is the thief who broke into the house while the owner is away,” said a security expert in a media interview on condition of anonymity.

Prosecutors also presented a Media Access Control address which was found on a laptop computer used by the North to launch the attack as evidence. But experts say that the address cannot be reliable as it kept changing on the Internet.

The hacking methods similar to the previous North Korean attacks cannot be clear evidence, either, to hold the North responsible, experts added. They said hackers tend to copy effective methods used by others.

During the announcement, investigative authorities stressed that they could not reveal all pieces of “critical” evidence to the public, citing security concerns. However, their concerns fail to ease doubts over whether the weeks-long result of the prosecutorial investigation is credible.

The North has long focused on cyber warfare. It is known to have established many college-level institutions to produce hackers and stationed cyber warfare personnel in China. The North has used cyber attacks to spy on South Korean government bodies or glean crucial intelligence.

Read more about the DPRK organizations thought to be responsible here.


Koryolink reaches 100,000 subscribers

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

According to the Financial Times:

Orascom Telecom, the Egypt-based mobile network operator, says its subsidiary in North Korea, Koryolink, has acquired 100,000 subscribers in its first year and expects to add millions more in the next five years.

The expansion plans come as the isolated country of 24m, which says it wants to be considered a “mighty and prosperous nation” by 2012, steps up efforts to attract foreign investment.

Pyongyang’s economic ambitions come in the face of tough international sanctions on its nuclear arms programme.

“We see that there is a very big plan for an economic boom,” said Khaled Bichara, chief executive of Orascom. “They are really looking to have, by 2012, a much stronger economy. We believe that mobiles and eventually international communication will definitely be part of this.”

Koryolink, a pre-pay system, has been available in Pyongyang and Nampo, the capital’s port, since December 2008. To help expand the network from there, Mr Bichara said North Korea was laying fibre-optic cables in the provinces.

Orascom was installing its most technologically advanced 3G network in North Korea, he said. The 2010 target for user numbers was ambitious but Mr Bichara declined to put a figure on it.

“I think if we achieve the target of this year, that will be a big milestone,” he said. “The number will be big enough to make Koryolink look like a significant company for us because the revenues per customer are interesting and we believe that this business will have customers in the millions within the next four or five years.”

Mr Bichara said the subscription figures showed that mobile phones were not limited to elite members of the military and communist party, as many observers had speculated.

However, the handset price of €140 ($195) put a mobile phone out of most people’s grasp.

So far, Koryolink offers only a basic voice and text messaging service. International calls and roaming services are not provided but Mr Bichara said starting them would be simple given the sophistication of the network being installed.

Koryolink is a joint venture in which Orascom has a 75 per cent stake. The rest is owned by Korea Post & Telecommunications Corp, the state fixed-line provider.

Thanks to a reader for sending this to me. 

Read the full article here:
N Korea operator looks to millions of 3G users
Financial Times
Christian Oliver and Heba Saleh


DPRK cell phone subscribers top 20,000- costs, services detailed

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 09-4-22-1

Since 3G cellular phones were first offered in North Korea last December, more than 20,000 customers have signed up for service. According to a recent report by the Choson Sinbo’s Pyongyang correspondent, the North’s cellular network is capable of providing voice and SMS services to as many as 126,000 customers in the Pyongyang area and along the highway between Pyongyang and Hyangsan, and is available to North Korean residents as well as foreigners in the North.

Anyone can procure a cell phone in the North by submitting required information on an application to a service center, along with an application fee of 50 Yuan, or approximately one Euro, or 130 Yen. Currently, telephones are selling for between 110 Euros for basic handsets, to as much as 240 Euros for phones with cameras and other functions. When a phone is turned on, a white ‘Chollima’ horse graphic appears over ‘Koryolink’ in blue, all with a red background. The trademark is said to mean, “The Choson spirit, moving forward at the speed of the Chollima to more quickly and more highly modernize the information and communication sector.”

To use one’s phone, a pre-paid phone card must be purchased. Three types of phone cards are sold for 850 won (A), 1700 won (B), and 2500 won (C), with ‘B’ and ‘C’ cards offering 125 and 400 minutes ‘free air time’, respectively. In order to see to it that its customer base continues to grow, the communications company plans to adjust prices, and offer services such as television and data transmission. Video and picture transmission and other technological preparations have already been made.

As has been previously reported, the service is provided by CHEO Technology Joint Venture Company, owned by the Choson Posts and Telecomm Corporation (KPTC) and Egypt’s Orscom Telecom Holding. There are now two service centers within Pyongyang. In December of last year, only one International Communications Center was established, but as service grew, a temporary sales office was set up in mid-March. The North Korean government purports to provide cellular service as part of its plan to improve the lives of the masses, and the number of subscribers is climbing daily. CHEO Technology plans to extend the coverage area to every major city, along all highways and along major rail routes throughout the country by the end of the year, with the ultimate goal of providing cellular service to every residential area in the nation by 2012. 


Orascom attracting competition

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

According to Telegeography:

Vietnamese military-owned telco Viettel has announced plans to expand its network to North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela, according to reports in local paper Thanh Nien Daily. Tran Phuoc Minh, deputy director of Viettel, said the company is hoping to hold negotiations with the three countries in order to gain a foothold in their still relatively underdeveloped wireless markets. The cellco expanded its network to Cambodia last year, where it signed up 100,000 wireless subscribers after two months of pilot operations, as well as Laos, where it hopes to attract 50,000 subscribers this year. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, Viettel had a subscriber base of 28 million at end-2008.

Read the full story here:
Viettel plans network expansion to North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela


Orascom 3G wrap up

Friday, December 19th, 2008

UPDATE: Here is an older paper by Stacey Banks which I have not read: North Korean Telecommunication: On Hold.

ORIGINAL POST: On Monday the Orascom 3G mobile network launched in North Korea.  Just about everyone covered this story…so here are the highlights:

Telecommunications in North Korea: Has Orascom Made the Connection?
Working Paper: Marcus Noland

The topicality of the second paper, on the Egyptian firm Orascom’s role in North Korea’s telecommunications modernization, received a boost this week with the announcement in Pyongyang that Orascom was finally rolling out its cell phone service and creating a joint venture bank with a North Korean partner.  The planned Orascom investments are large: if actualized, they would be the largest non-Chinese or non-South Korean investments in North Korea, and would exceed total private investment in the Kaesong Industrial Complex to date

Financial Times

Orascom is confident North Korea is opening up its economy and says it has been assured by the ­government that everyone will be allowed to buy a mobile. However, experts think that such a volte-face is highly unlikely and reckon only senior military and government officials will be allowed access, and then only to a closed network.

When asked how many people would ultimately use the service, Orascom’s chairman Naguib Sawiris said: “We have a modest target of 5 to 10 per cent of the population.” The population is about 23m. Mr Sawiris expects 50,000 subscriptions in the first three-to-six months.

Jim Hoare, Britain’s former chargé d’affaires to Pyongyang, says the new network is bound to have severe restrictions.

“It’s unlikely that a country that doesn’t allow you to have a radio unless it’s set to the state frequency will suddenly allow everyone to have mobile phones. It’s more credible that there will be a limited network for officials in Pyongyang and Nampo.”

Dong Yong-sung, chief of the economic security team at the Samsung Economic Research Institute in Seoul, believes another obstacle to ordinary North Koreans owning phones will be the cost. “As far as I know, mobile phone registration costs about $1,000,” he said, a sum equivalent to the average annual income.

(NKeconWatch: Others put the price at $700…and there are many problems with asserting that the DPRK’s per capita income is $1,000 per year.)


The inauguration of Koryolink took place today in North Korea, Orascom Telecom said in an e-mailed statement. Orascom Telecom Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Sawiris attended the event, a company official said, requesting anonymity. The Cairo- based company got a 25-year license and exclusive access for four years in January. It plans to spend as much as $400 million on a high-speed network and the license for the first three years.

The North Korean venture is “in line with our strategy to penetrate countries with high population and low penetration by providing the first mobile telephony services,” Sawiris said in a statement earlier this year.

CHEO Technology JV Company, the North Korean unit that will operate under the Koryolink name, is 75 percent owned by Orascom Telecom and 25 percent by the state-owned Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation.

The unit will see average revenue per user of $12 to $15 this year as Orascom Telecom targets three of the country’s biggest cities, according to company forecasts.

Koryolink has rolled out its so-called third-generation grid to initially cover Pyongyang, with a population of 2 million.

Orascom is counting on four potential markets in the Stalinist nation, according to a study by Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

The military and government officials are the top targets, followed by foreigners working for UN organizations and diplomats. The others are customers from South Korea, which has several economic projects with its neighbor, and local demand from rich North Koreans.

To protect its investment, Orascom “hedged its bet, committing only half of its investment at the outset and making additional investment conditional on its assessment of conditions going forward,” Noland said.

If the deal is threatened, Orascom may withdraw specialized equipment or technicians, reducing the value of the network to Pyongyang, Noland said in his study.

“Orascom may have spread the wealth informally, creating beneficiaries within the decision-making apparatus who would stand to lose if the agreement failed,” according to the study.


Orascom Telecom, the Middle East’s biggest wireless company, opened Ora Bank in Pyongyang in the presence of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Naguib Sawiris, a company official said on condition of anonymity. Ezzeldine Heikal, who is also head of Koryolink, Orascom’s North Korean mobile-phone network, was appointed president of the bank, the official said without providing further details.

“This is a big deal, especially as far as North Korea is concerned, because the current banking system is virtually non- existent,” Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. “It’s a ground that others have feared to tread and is perhaps an endorsement for North Korea that says ‘we’re open for business.’”

Ora Bank is a joint venture between Orascom Telecom and North Korea’s state-owned Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s official news agency reported today. The director of North Korea’s central bank Kim Chon Gyun and Egypt’s ambassador to Pyongyang Ismail Abdelrahman Ghoneim Hussein, were also present at the opening ceremony, the news agency said.

Radio Free Asia

Chinese traders who regularly travel back and forth to North Korea said local residents showed little enthusiasm for the new service, which cost more than U.S. $900 to set up before the Ryongchun explosion.

North Korean defector Kim Kwang-jin, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul, said the fact that the government had once pulled the plug on North Korean cell phones meant that it could easily do so again.

“In the beginning, people will be hesitant, because a few years ago many of them made a big investment in cell phones. But service was suspended abruptly, so they are still very concerned that might happen again,” Kim said.

“People are also worried that the ability to pay such a high amount of money for a cell phone may raise a red flag and bring them under scrutiny by the North Korean authorities.”

Most foreigners are banned from using cell phones while in North Korea, although a network for government officials is believed to exist in the capital, Pyongyang.

(NKeconWatch: I personally saw elite North Koreans use mobile phones and even some western journalists in 2005.)

The Guardan

North Korea first experimented with mobile phones in 2002, but recalled the handsets 18 months later after a mysterious train explosion that killed an estimated 160 people. Some experts argue that officials feared the incident was an attempt to assassinate the regime’s “dear leader”, Kim Jong-il, and that mobile phones were involved.


Some reports suggest that handsets for the new network will cost around $700 each, putting them far beyond the reach of the vast majority of people in the impoverished country.

Choson Ilbo

Although the technology would enable users to send and receive text messages and video content, North Korean customers will only be allowed to speak over their phones.

BMI Political Risk Analysis, Dec 16, 2008 (h/t Oliver)

BMI View: North Korea has officially begun third-generation (3G) mobile phone services, thanks to Egypt’s Orascom Telecom (OT). However, the growth of the network could be limited by the regime’s fear that mobile phones will increase the scope for anti-regime activities.

North Korea has officially commenced third-generation (3G) mobile phone services, thanks to an investment by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom (OT). The firm’s initial target is 100,000 subscribers in three major cities, including Pyongyang, and it eventually hopes to develop a nation-wide network connecting North Korea’s 23mn citizens. OT has promised to invest US$400mn in network infrastructure over the next four years. It has signed a 25-year contract with the North Korean government, and owns 75% of their joint-venture (known as Korealink). OT’s exclusivity rights will last for four years. Orascom’s foray is something of a coup, given that North Korea’s communications network is so rudimentary (for further background see December 8 2008, Industry Trend Analysis – North Korea Prepares For Mobile Network Launch).

Why Pyongyang Fears Mobile Phones
North Korea launched a mobile phone service operated by a Thai subsidiary firm in 2002, but reversed course in 2004, apparently because of a devastating bomb blast on a train in Ryongchon in April of that year. Given that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s personal train had passed through the area only a few hours earlier, there was speculation that the explosion had been an assassination attempt, possibly triggered by mobile phone. Since then, only those living in areas close to the border with China have had access to mobile phones, thanks to the proximity of the Chinese network.

Aside from the notion of mobile phones as bomb triggers, they can also make it easier for citizens to communicate with one another. This would increase citizens’ ability to organise anti-government activities – such as protests or sabotage. For example, the popular uprising that led to the overthrow of Philippine president Joseph Estrada in 2001 was dubbed the ‘text message revolution’, because that is how the marches were announced and coordinated. Admittedly, the Philippines is a far more open society than North Korea, but the subversive aspect has not been lost on the regime.

Mobile phones would also make it easier for North Koreans to communicate with the outside world, and thus allow the real-time transmission of information or intelligence to foreign media or spy agencies, and vice versa. They would also allow the North Korean elite to communicate more efficiently, allowing dissident elements to plot against the regime.

Thus, even something as basic as mobile phones are seen as potentially regime threatening.

Mobile Service Difficult To Spread
Consequently, Orascom will surely find it difficult to spread its mobile service across the country. For a start, registration will be tightly watched. Secondly, the cost of the handsets, at several hundred dollars, will mean that only the political and moneyed elites will be able to afford mobiles. Of course, elements of the elite can ‘misuse’ their phones to arrange subversive actions if they deem it worthy, but it seems that the regime are counting on loyalty. Indeed, depending on the sophistication of their equipment, the regime will probably be able to snoop in on the elite’s conversations and movements, giving them an additional layer of security.

Read the full articles below:
Orascom eyes North Korean network
Financial Times
Christian Oliver

Orascom Telecom’s Sawiris Signs North Korean Deal
Tarek Al-Issawi

Orascom Telecom of Egypt Opens Bank in North Korea
Tarek Al-Issawi

North Korea Brings Back Cell Phones
Radio Free Asia
Jung Young

Secretive North Korea launches restricted mobile phone service
The Guardian
Tania Branigan

N Korea launches 3G phone network
Steve Jackson

N.Korea Restarts Cell Phone Service
Choson Ilbo