North Korea’s Linux-based Red Star OS is as oppressive as you’d expect – ExtremeTech
As we’ve covered before, North Korea has its own version of Linux called Red Star OS. A pair of German researchers have just given the code a once over — and as you’d expect, it’s locked down and oppressive, and worse than just a weaker version of other Linux distros. It’s geared toward enabling and maintaining a total surveillance state, all while giving the illusion of technological progress to its citizens.
Red Star 3.0 was first leaked in 2014. We knew then that while it’s still based on Linux, it ditched its former Windows XP-style UI for that of a mid-2000s-era Mac OS X machine. Red Star OS uses KDE 3 and is available only in Korean, and is localized to North Korean spellings and terms. It contains a Firefox-based browser called Naenara for browsing the country’s intranet, along with an email client, media players, a music composition program, games, and a text editor.
Under the hood, it’s much worse. The researchers found that among Red Star 3.0’s capabilities, if you’d call them that, are watermarking different file types in order to track the distribution of documents and media files via USB stick, in a presumed effort to crack down on Western media creeping into the country.
The OS also has its own way of encrypting files. The researchers said that the system is “designed to defend and protect itself from changes made from user space,” and that the features implemented in Red Star OS are “the wet dream of a surveillance state dictator.” For example, if a user does make a change to the OS, like disabling an antivirus checker or firewall, the computer will display an error or even just reboot itself, according to a separate report in The Guardian.
It’s impossible to know just how many people even have access to computers in North Korea to begin with. Reports have circulated that the 14-year-old Windows XP is still floating around on machines, and Kim Jong-un has been photographed in front of an iMac before. It’s been suggested that North Korea is not only surveilling its citizens, but is also paranoid that other countries could install back doors to prevent snooping from other countries.
It’s nothing new that dictators force their citizens to use special operating systems. Back in 1999, China began developing Red Flag Linux, and Red Star OS in North Korea dates to 2002. Cuba also has its own Nova OS. The ultimate goal, aside from the above, is to ensure the populace is kept in line and isolated from any possible influence around the world.
All this, mind you, from open-source software that was originally designed to promote freedom. The irony is breathtaking.