North Korea Copies Apple for State-run OS

| News

North Korea has been hard at work on building its own computer operating system, but instead of copying Windows XP—the operating system most of the country's citizens use—the government chose to go with a very OS X look. What they didn't copy, however, was OS X's built-in privacy features and instead created a system that lets the government tag and track every file even if they haven't been opened.

Straight from Pyongyang: OS X Red Star OSStraight from Pyongyang: OS X Red Star OS

Instead of simply cloning OS X, North Korea wrote its own code based on the Fedora Linux distribution loaded with deep surveillance capabilities and a disregard for personal privacy. The government dubbed their snooping OS Red Star OS, according to Reuters.

By rolling their own code instead of reverse engineering OS X, the uber paranoid government can feel more comfortable that foreign intelligence agencies don't have back doors into state secrets.

"They may want to be independent of other operating systems because they fear back doors," said Florian Grunow from the German IT security company ERNW.

North Korea's concern may seem paranoid, but considering that less oppressive governments—including the United States and United Kingdom—are looking at legislation that would require tech companies to provide back doors for government surveillance, there is at least a little justification.

Using secret back doors to covertly spy on North Korean computers isn't, however, as simple as setting up code and sitting back while the data comes in. North Korea runs its own intranet that's disconnected from the rest of the world. Still, it's clear the country's government wants to do everything it can to keep foreign eyes out of its hard drives while spying on its own citizens as much as possible.

Red Star OS blocks users from changing system settings, so users can't do things like disable their firewall or alter antivirus checker settings. They also can't stop the operating system from tagging every file on internal or external drives, which gives government officials a way to quietly track any document from user to user.

Those tracking features will help cut down on contraband content like foreign movies, music, and books. Those files are typically shared via USB stick, which the government can now track covertly. If someone shares a foreign movie with a friend, for example, the government will know that both people have a copy, and who else may have one, too.

North Korea also bundles its own apps with Red Star OS so users have the tools they need, and hopefully won't look for pirated apps that may have foreign spy tools installed.

Despite the massive under the hood differences, Red Star OS and OS X do bear a striking resemblance. Considering Tim Cook's very public stance on protecting privacy, it's pretty unlikely we'll see Apple copying Red Star OS features any time soon.

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Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case it's a safe bet Tim Cook doesn't feel honored.

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Scott B in DC

I’m sure George Orwell would be proud!! grin


I remember seeing this a few years ago when it first got out. I guess they finally finished it. What a depressing country to live in… the paranoia by the government stinks so bad it makes your eyes water.

William Wales

Red Star OS? North Korea people may be proud of it.


I have a very difficult time believing this. Why would N. Korea produce an English-language version of their OS. Looks bogus to me. The earlier versions of the OS were on a Linux kernel and were only in N. Korean.

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