As different as apples and oranges

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As different as apples and oranges

When North Korea suffered a prolonged Internet outage, some observers theorized that the United States was behind it - retaliating against the grand-scale cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, the production company responsible for the controversial comedy “The Interview.”

At the U.S. State Department’s daily press briefing on Dec. 23, North Korea was a constant.

“A former U.S. official said that a more powerful retaliatory signal would be to provide Internet access to North Koreans,” one reporter said. “What do you think of that?”

“There are a lot of ideas out there,” Marie Harf, the deputy spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, responded. “I’m happy for people to write about them publicly. We have a range of options. I’m not going to rule anything in or anything out.”

It is quite strange to discuss who shut down North Korea’s Internet. Let’s rephrase that question to make it more direct: Is shutting down North Korea’s Internet really a retaliation?

Just as The New York Times, The Washington Post and other news outlets pointed out, an Internet outage in North Korea has little to no impact on average North Koreans. According to The New York Times, North Korea only has 1,024 official Internet protocol addresses, “fewer than many city blocks in New York.”

Contact with the rest of the world is extremely controlled, and the Internet is only accessible to select elites, overseas North Koreans, South Korea propaganda teams and at Kim Il Automation University, where hackers are trained. For some reason, Korean citizens know better than the American media: Prompting an Internet outage in a country with extremely limited Internet access is not a retaliation. North Korea can survive without the Internet. For this very reason, American technology experts claim that Washington wouldn’t have orchestrated such an obvious attack.

When U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 that full relations with Cuba would be restored, for instance, he welcomed Cuba’s decision to expand Internet access to its citizens. “I believe in the free flow of information,” Obama said, emphasizing that telecommunications connecting the United States and Cuba would be expanded.

Just as Joel Wit, a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said, North Korea and Cuba are as different as apples and oranges. They have different ways of participating in the international community, and Pyongyang’s nuclear program makes North Korea inherently unique.

However, when it comes to the Internet, the responses to Cuba and North Korea could not be any more different. The Internet symbolizes contact with the outside world, and encouraging its use is a way to open North Korea and reduce the psychological gap as we prepare for reunification. Pyongyang wages cyberwarfare against Seoul and the rest of the world, but in a broader context there are an unlimited number of cyber warriors fighting against the Communist state. In that sense, there is little to gain by annihilating North Korea’s Internet access.

The author is the Washington correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 27, Page 30


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