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Undergrad Unveils Secret of North Korea’s Website

NEWS EDITOR

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 02:04

Courtesy of www.korea-dpr.com

Michael DiTanna, FCRH ’13, discovered that North Korea’s website is based on a $15, American-made template, when preparing for a research project

It took Michael DiTanna, FCRH ’13, a matter of 15 minutes while working on a project for his North Korean history class to make a discovery that has since sparked international debate and public shock.

The project’s assignment was to explore and research popular media sources and items of propoganda in North Korea, according to DiTanna. He focused on North Korea’s website.

“I actually missed class when the materials [for the assigned project] were given out,” the computer science major said recently in an email. “Professor [Yufeng] Mao was kind enough to give me [North Korea’s] official English language website to review.”

DiTanna said that he noticed “some common open-source web elements” soon after visiting the website of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

DiTanna noted, specifically, that the main image banner, which sits in the middle of the webpage and transitions through five pictures, inspired him to look further into the website’s structure.

DiTanna’s next step was to check the source code of the website and “browse for common signs of a template,” he said. DiTanna reportedly found “mainly instructional coding ‘commented’ out of the actual functioning HTML.” The “commented” code, according to DiTanna, is used to assist web designers in reverse engineering of a template or website.

“Envatowebdesign” was located in the code, according to DiTanna, which can be connected to themeforest.com, a website where independent designers sell clients web templates and themes for an average price of $15. The code found on North Korea’s website “gave away the template’s source,” DiTanna said.

“I then searched themeforest.com for websites tagged with the ‘piecemaker banner’ that North Korea’s website used,” DiTanna said. “I simply browsed five to 10 sites until I found the matching template.”

DiTanna apparently discovered that the template used to create North Korea’s website costs $15 and is available for anyone to purchase.

DiTanna reported his findings to his history class and then quickly tipped off editors at Wired magazine, who published the story via a blog post on April 18.

“As it turns out, [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea website has] an amateurish look,” Spencer Ackerman, a senior reporter at Wired said in the post. “North Korea’s using a webpage template that costs $15.”

Wiredconfirmed that the website was created using IgniteThemes “Blender” template.

Since Wired’s blog post, news outlets from all over the world have gathered to comment on the discovery in the context of North Korea’s political climate, namely the country’s recent rocket failure.

“North Korea has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its ill-fated rocket program, but when it came time to give its website a facelift, the country decided to go the thrifty route,” The Los Angeles Times wrote on April 21.

Keeping in time with the widely-known censorship laws and policies in North Korea, spokesman Cho Son-il told FOX News that the website is not for citizens.

“[It is] for the people outside [the country], to have basic information and a direct connection point with the country,” Son-il said.

According to DiTanna, the global debate, established since the discovery was brought to light, is focused on the question of whether North Korea’s website choice is simply frugal or detrimentally embarrassing.

“While I do support the use of templates as a means of accessing beautiful quality work at a cheaper cost than custom work,” DiTanna said, “it is extremely embarrassing for a country to be using a web template.”

DiTanna went on to note that while North Korea is “proud of self-sufficiency,” an American-born template was used to represent the country.

“I had a good laugh at discovering [the template came from America],” DiTanna said.

Robert Westmore of South California, the creator of the “Blender” theme, told FOX News that before DiTanna made the discovery, he had no idea that North Korea even had a website. Nevertheless, Westmore likes the idea of his $15 design being used to digitally represent a “high-profile” website.

“As a web designer I’m always happy to see my work getting utilized, especially when it’s on a high-profile website,” Westmore said. 

Aside from the global conversation this exposure has aroused, DiTanna is just proud to push Fordham’s name into the spotlight of international headlines.

“The important thing is that Fordham University’s name has been mentioned in every single article [published about North Korea’s website] in hundreds of sources across the world as a result,” DiTanna said. 

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