Fordham Notes: Fordham Student Unmasks North Korean Web Secret

Monday, April 30, 2012

Fordham Student Unmasks North Korean Web Secret

So little is known about North Korea, it has earned the nickname “The Hermit Kingdom.” Thanks to Michael DiTanna, we know a smidge more about the country, or at least its approach to the Internet.

As part of an assignment for The Two Koreas, a course taught by Yufeng Mao, Ph.D., assistant visting professor of history, DiTanna, a junior majoring in computer science at Fordham College at Rose Hill, was asked to analyze the content of North Korean official media.

He chose to examine the reclusive nations’ official English language website, where his interest was piqued by a familiar piece of code.

“Immediately after visiting the site I noticed the website used some common open source web elements — specifically the main image banner,” DiTanna told Wired Magazine’s Danger Room blog. Noticing the “envatowebdesign” marker “gave away the template’s source,” he said.

DiTanna was able to locate the correct template and note its price, a rather unimpressive $15.

 “I had to present on this in class and everyone was pretty shocked,” he told the magazine.

The blog noted that a keyword search for “envatowebdesign” brings a prompt from the seller of the theme —Ignite Themes—on how to customize it, but whoever designed it in Pyongyang didn’t even bother.

“It’s a bit like leaving the plastic overlay on your fancy new TV telling you about the screen size,” they note.

Since the Danger Room blog was posted on April 18, DiTanna has been bombarded by requests for comment from, by his estimate, 10-15 reporters and bloggers daily. The World and the BBC even visited campus to interview him for stories.

“I wasn't surprised it got some attention from tech circles, but I was surprised when mainstream media picked it up,” he said.

“It was tied in only because of how much North Korea was in the news lately and the article was related to North Korean budgeting and "other blunders."

Alas, DiTanna said he’s received no word from North Korea on its choice of Ignite Themes’ Blender style web page theme.

—Patrick Verel

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