North Korea has a paradoxical relationship with technology. On the one hand, very few of their citizens have ever used a computer. On the other hand, they finance some of the most sophisticated cyber attacks on the planet.
The oppressive regime and the struggling economy combine to leave most citizens far behind the rest of the world in access to the internet and technological products. However, the government provides training and access to elite groups who are closely monitored. Here are four unique ways North Koreans use technology.
1. North Korean computers have their own operating system.
The interface looks remarkably similar to Apple’s OS X, but the paranoid regime of Kim Jong-Un has built in security features to make spying on their citizens easy and accessible.
One of these features is that a file transferred from one computer to another can be traced. This is done to discourage sharing of anti-government files and to discover where such files originated.
The operating system is called Red Star and comes with a basic software suite. The OS features a modified Firefox browser, a text editor, an email client, audio and video players, as well as games. There is also a piece of software that can be installed that allows Windows programs to run on the Linux-based system.
2. North Korea has their own version of Facebook
The iron-fisted regime in charge of North Korea severely restricts internet usage altogether. It was unthinkable that the leadership of the country would permit Facebook inside its borders.
Instead, the country built a clone of the popular social media site. Users of the clone can do everything they can on Facebook, only now the government has access to it all. It’s unclear how popular the service is, but the citizens must certainly know that their messages and information will be seen by the government.
When the cloned site first went up, there were a few hiccups. Whoever created the site left the default credentials as “admin” and “password.” An American teen briefly hacked the site before it was taken down and updated.
3. Internet access is extremely limited.
The only people that have access to the open internet are a small group of high-level officials. On strictly monitored computers, some university students are allowed access to the internet, but even this kind of access is rare.
The more common way to get online in North Korea is through Kwangmyong. This extremely censored version of the internet is available to select groups of people. Certain schools, factories, and privileged individuals have access to this monitored and censored network.
4. Using ransomware to wreak havoc and make money.
Experts believe that since the 1980s, North Korea has trained computer scientists and sent them abroad to wreak havoc on South Korea and the United States. These digital soldiers then carry out attacks, sometimes for money and sometimes just to cause headaches.
One of the more famous instances of a North Korean cyber attack occurred when Sony Pictures financed The Interview, a movie that made fun of Kim Jong-Un. A group in Thailand, whom many believe to be North Korean in origin, stole and published five unreleased movies as well as emails from Sony executives and stars.
The WannaCry attack, which recently infected over 200,000 computers worldwide, now appears to have several trademarks of the North Koreans. The attack raised only about $75,000 in ransom, but its larger purpose is to flaunt the country’s ability to cause trouble throughout the world.
As North Korea continues to test missiles and cause havoc online, they seem destined to collide with other powers in the world. China has traditionally defended their neighboring countries, but now they too have been affected by cyber attacks.
South Korea recently elected a president who expressed a willingness to negotiate directly with North Korea. Even he has lost patience as Kim Jong-Un defies the ruling norms of the world. Kim Jong-Un is running out of friends and possibly out of time.