North Korea’s Linux OS Spies On Its Users

North Korea Linux Snooping

North Korea is one of the few countries that have Linux based national operating system. It is called Red Star OS.

Considering the political state of North Korea it is understandable that Red Star OS doesn’t have its website and the source code is not available at all. In fact, very little detail is known about it at all. A few images of Red Star OS available on the internet, were first leaked by a Russian Student who was in North Korea.

If you do not know already, North Korea general public is only allowed to use its intranet system (Kwangmyong). It does not connect to the World Wide Web, but allows access to state media and some officially approved sites. Only government officials and foreigners (with authorization) are allowed to use the ‘real web’.

Red Star Linux OD from North Korea

In other details, we know that Red Star 3.0 was released (read leaked) in 2014. Previously, it looked like Windows XP but the latest version resembles an older version of Mac OS X. It is a Linux OS based on Fedora.

Red Star OS is a snooping machine

Red Star OS is in the news recently. Two researchers from German security company ERNW claimed to have gotten their hands on the software and as per their analysis, Red Star is a snooping machine.

In a report published by Guardian, the researchers revealed that Red Star OS includes its own file encryption system. The entire idea behind developing Red Star OS is to minimize the influence of outside force and avoid any backdoors installations by hostile countries.

But this doesn’t end at avoiding snooping by foreign intelligence agencies. Red Star OS also snoops on its own users.

In a typical North Korean environment, files are mostly transferred via physical devices like USB keys and SD Cards etc. The files usually are foreign media, music and movies. These content are forbidden in North Korea in a bid to avoid foreign influence on he citizens.

Tracking the file transfer via physical devices is extremely difficult. Red Star makes it easier this by tagging every document or media file on a computer or on any USB stick connected to it. That way all files can be traced to its origin.

If anyone tries to turn off that file-tracking functionality, the OS will simply block the attempt, throw up a black error screen, or reboot. There is no way one can get rid of it and the government will know what kind of media you are accessing.

Kim Jong Un trying to track who has the latest edition of Naughty America
Kim Jong Un trying to track who has the latest edition of Naughty America

Spirit of Linux and Open Source ruined

Government snooping on citizens and privacy violation is nothing new in the present complex world. But North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un has taken it to another level by installing such spyware on a Linux system that cannot even be removed. This is when Linux itself symbolizes freedom.

[Tweet “Thank you Kim Jong Un for ruining the spirit of #FOSS with your Red Star #Linux snooping machine”]

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  • It sounds to me like it’s time for a Stuxnet style virus to be introduced. A few Kim Jong Un thumb drives lying around might do the trick.

  • Just a suggestion, Maybe if you make a system just like Red Star you can find vulnerabilities and even find ways to free up the system? Life finds a way.

  • I think it’s time to break North Korea’s lines on this and introduce a special version of tails into NK for its citizens. One that tags all the system files but nothing in the home directory.

    • Nice Idea, but hard to do and maintain anyway… However, if anyone tries it, he should try to make it as familiar as it gets to Red Star Linux users, and copy the interface as much as he can.