North Korea's homegrown computer operating system mirrors its political one, according to two German researchers: a go-it-alone approach, a high degree of paranoia and invasive snooping on users.
Their research, the deepest yet into the secretive state's Red Star OS, illustrates the challenges Pyongyang faces in trying to embrace the benefits of computing and the internet while keeping a tight grip on ideas and culture.
The researchers, Florian Grunow and Niklaus Schiess of German IT security company ERNW GmbH, presented their findings to the Chaos Communication Congress, a gathering of hackers and security researchers, in Hamburg.
North Korea, whose rudimentary intranet system does not connect to the outside internet, has been developing its own operating system for more than a decade.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
"Maybe this is a bit fear-driven," Grunow said. "They may want to be independent of other operating systems because they fear back doors" which might let others spy on them.
Any attempts to tamper with Red Star - like trying to disable its anti-virus checker or firewall - and the computer will display an error message, or reboot itself.
Red Star also addresses a more pressing concern: cracking down on the growing underground exchange of foreign movies, music and writing.
Illegal media is usually passed from person to person in North Korea using USB sticks and microSD cards, making it hard for the Government to track where they come from.
Red Star tackles this by tagging every document or media file on a computer or on any USB stick docked to it. "[It] touches files you haven't even opened," says Grunow.