North Korea's OS Has 'Malicious Functionality'
Linux-based Red Star operating system basically spies on whoever uses it
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 28, 2015 10:04 AM CST
In this July 27, 2012, file photo, a North Korean flag flutters during a military exercise at an undisclosed location in North Korea.   (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin, File)
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(Newser) – Check out North Korea's computer operating system, and it feels almost like you're using a Mac. Red Star OS is a "fully featured desktop system," German researcher Niklaus Schiess tells Motherboard, complete with word processing software and a revamped Firefox browser. But like almost everything else in the totalitarian nation, something more nefarious lies underneath, per Schiess and Florian Grunow, who both scrutinized a version of the Linux-based OS that was leaked in 2014. They presented their findings Sunday to the Chaos Communication Congress—what Reuters calls "a gathering of hackers and security researchers"—in Hamburg, Germany. "We found that the features implemented in Red Star OS are the wet dream of a surveillance state dictator," the two say, describing a "fear-driven" OS that features "malicious functionality."

Among the features of the OS are custom-developed encryption and the watermarking of documents and multimedia files so they can be tracked as they're transferred from computer to computer via USB sticks, Reuters notes. "It's definitely privacy invading, it's not transparent to the user," Grunow says, per the news agency. It "touches files you haven't even opened." There's also a built-in firewall, anti-virus scanner, and a program that reboots the OS or displays an error message if anyone tries to mess with the OS, per Motherboard. What made the OS particularly interesting to Grunow and Schiess is the fact that the nation is using the open source Linux OS, which can be customized for a user's particular purposes—in North Korea's case, snooping on its own, per Re/code. "North Korea abuses the principals of free software to provide an operating system that suppresses free speech," the researchers note in their CCC abstract.
 

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