A Russian blogger, identified just as Mikhail, has posted screenshots and some technical details (Russian) of Red Star, a Linux-based operating system apparently available for sale in North Korea. And Red Star isn’t just any Linux: it’s apparently loaded with hooks designed to let North Korean government watchdogs keep an eye on what users are doing.
North Korea is one of the world’s most isolated regimes; Internet access tightly controlled and online content heavily censored by government watchdogs. Developing its own Linux-based operating system may be an extension of the country’s policy of self-reliance.
Red Star only offers one language option—Korean, naturally. It features an email application dubbed “Pigeon” and had Firefox set up as its primary browser—the North Korean government site is configured as the default home page. The distribution also includes several games and OpenOffice applications.
According to Mikhail, he bought the Red Star operating system in Pyongyong while studying in North Korea. However, due to tight limits on access to computers and the Internet, Mikhail did not believe Red Star will even see significant distribution in North Korea.
According to South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute (Korean), the Red Star operating system is intended as a tool to help the North Korean regime maintain control over citizens’ Internet access and use, as well as its own Internet and information security. The STPI also says the operating system is deliberately engineered to monitor users’ online activity.
North Korea is one of a handful of nations on sanctions lists that, in theory, bars it from accessing or contributing to open source software projects. Last month the United States approved exporting certain types of Internet services to Iran, Cuba, and the Sudan…North Korea conspicuously did not make the list.
Last year, South Korea was subjected to a wave of denial-of-service attacks, along with a handful of U.S. government sites. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service suggested the attacks may have originated from North Korea.