Domain names using North Korea's dot-kp top-level domain could soon be returning to the Internet after being offline for months.
A handful of domain names registered under dot-kp became unavailable beginning in the third quarter of 2010 after DNS (domain name system) servers responsible for them went offline. The servers are vital for the operation of a domain because they translate domain names into the numeric addresses that computers need to communicate.
The exact nature of the months-long outage remains unclear, but on Monday the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) pointed the domain to new servers in a first step toward bringing it back online.
Dot KP was first assigned in 2007 to Korea Computer Center Europe, a Berlin-based offshoot of the Korea Computer Center in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital. The German operation was run by businessman Jan Holtermann, who had reached a deal to supply a satellite Internet service to select customers in North Korea.
KCC Europe operated the domain and several North Korean-related websites from servers in Germany until last year, when all went offline at about the same time. E-mail messages and phone calls to KCC Europe and Holtermann have gone unanswered.
The new servers do not yet appear to be online, but IANA's records now point to North Korean Internet addresses. The servers carry the "kptc.kp" name, which is probably a reference to Korea Posts and Telecommunications Corp., the country's official telecommunications carrier.
The move is the latest in a string of actions by North Korea to strengthen its presence online.
In the first half of last year a network provider jointly operated by the North Korean government and Thailand's Loxley Pacific took control of a batch of Internet addresses that had been assigned for North Korean use but never used. Then, in the second half of the year, two websites appeared on servers within that address space.
The problems with dot-kp didn't affect users in North Korea. The country has a domestic intranet that makes use of dot-kp domain names, but the network isn't connected to the Internet, so has its own servers. Ordinary North Koreans are not allowed access to the Internet, as part of the government's attempts to limit exposure to information from overseas.