Tuesday 27 September 2016

North Korea’s Red Star computer operating system revealed in detail by researchers

Andrew Griffin

Published 29/12/2015 | 08:03

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (centre L) visits the Samchon Catfish Farm in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) visits the Samchon Catfish Farm in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang
The second day of talks are being held at the North Korean border town of Kaesong
South Korean Min Ho-shik (centre), 84, reacts as he meets his North Korean younger sister Min Eun Shik, 81, during the separated family reunions at Mount Kumgang resort, North Korea. Photo: ReutersYonhap
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) visits the January 18 General Machinery Plant in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang
South Korean Min Ho-shik hugs his North Korean family member Min Un Sik during the Separated Family Reunion Meeting at Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea (Kim Do-hoon/Yonhap via AP)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) visits the January 18 General Machinery Plant in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang
North Korean Kim Duk Young (left), 82, talks with his South Korean younger brother Kim Chang-young, 80, during the separated family reunions at Mount Kumgang resort, North Korea, October 20, 2015. Reuters

The secret software that powers North Korea’s computers has been revealed by researchers.

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The country’s computers run custom-created software that is built to stop information escaping and to ensure that communications can be read. Until now it has remained almost entirely unknown, with only some glances at the software leaking from the notoriously highly-controlled country.

The software, known as Red Star OS, is based on Linux and looks similar to Mac OS. But it contains all sorts of custom technology that allows the country to control how it is used.

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Some of that technology includes safeguards that stop citizens from making any changes to the operating system. As well as hiding and protecting all sorts of central parts of the software, the computer will also be able to detect if a user is making changes and shut itself down.

It also monitors all of those changes so that authorities can see what has been done on the computer, the researchers said. That allows authorities to see who has access to any files, as well as who made them or opened them, using a “watermarking” feature that imprints anything that users do with a special code.

The computers still look and feel like regular systems, taking their design inspiration from Mac OS. The operating system includes helpful software like a built-in word processor and a music creation suite.

Many of the features of the system are built for security. That includes encryption tools that are created to ensure that messages are safe, which use a technology that was built by North Korea’s own engineers.

The researchers looked into the special software because it uses parts of the open source movement that created Linux with the intention of allowing it to be used for free, they said. “They are using something that is supposed to support free-speech,” one of the researchers told Motherboard.

Some of the special parts of Red Star help the country ensure that it is extra-secure, keeping other countries and people from snooping on messages. But the researchers, Niklaus Schiess and Florian Grunow, said that it mostly seemed to be created to help with surveillance and oppression.

The technology also couldn’t be used outside of the country, because it works by getting in touch with servers inside North Korea that can’t be accessed from the rest of the world.

Independent News Service

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