Provide your email for confirmation

Tell us a bit about yourself

country *

Please provide your email address

welcome to Rappler

Login

To share your thoughts

Don't have an account?

Login with email

Check your inbox

We just sent a link to your inbox. Click the link to continue signing in. Can’t find it? Check your spam & junk mail.

Didn't get a link?

Use password?

Login with email

Reset password?

Please use the email you used to register and we will send you a link to reset your password

Check your inbox

We just sent a link to your inbox. Click the link to continue resetting your password. Can’t find it? Check your spam & junk mail.

Didn't get a link?

Sign up

Ready to get started

Already have an account?

Sign up with email

By signing up you agree to Rappler’s Terms and Conditions and Privacy

Check your inbox

We just sent a link to your inbox. Click the link to continue registering. Can’t find it? Check your spam & junk mail.

Didn't get a link?

Join Rappler+

Join Move

How often would you like to pay?

Annual Subscription

Monthly Subscription

Your payment was interrupted

Exiting the registration flow at this point will mean you will loose your progress

Your payment didn’t go through

Exiting the registration flow at this point will mean you will loose your progress

welcome to Rappler+

welcome to Move

welcome to Move & Rappler+

North Korea's Redstar OS brings totalitarianism to computing

REDSTAR 2.0. The logo of North Korea's operating system.

Screenshot from Wikipedia

MANILA, Philippines – If you wanted to bring a country into the 21st century, but wanted to keep everything everyone did under your watchful eye, what would you do?

If you're North Korea, the answer would be to build your own operating system (OS) – RedStar OS – where the state's control over the information going in and out of the computer is absolute.

A presentation at the Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Germany, on Sunday, December 27, investigated how RedStar OS' third version went against the principles of open source development, despite being made from freely available software meant for free speech purposes. 

Niklaus Schiess and Florian Grunow, the pair who presented the investigation into RedStar, described to Motherboard that the OS looked like Mac OSX, but was based on Fedora 11 – a 2009 Linux distribution – and worked with an operating system kernel from 2011. 

It included word processing and music creation software and a modified version of the Firefox browser.

STATE-CONTROLLED. RedStar's 3.0 incarnation.

Screenshot from Wikipedia

Aside from these features, everything else seemed to make it poised to track down users' actions. RedStar included a system in the OS that allowed it to monitor any changes a user might make, reacting according to the actions a user takes.

This extra system in place lets RedStar tag USB sticks with data watermarks, so it can track who has a particular file, who made it, as well as who opened it. Motherboard went on to say, "In short, whenever a USB storage device containing documents, photos or videos is inserted into a RedStar computer, the operating system takes the current hard-disk's serial number, encrypts that number, and then writes that encrypted serial into the file, marking it."

RedStar, according to Schless, is also "highly customized," with a lot of features added "to improve the security of the system," such as a pre-installed firewall, extra protections on some core system files, and a program that keeps checking the computer if changes are made to core files.

If the program sees a core file has been altered, it reboots the system immediately. This action, according to the researchers, can sometimes force an infinite cycle of reboots, depending on the circumstances.

The researchers also said the changes are apparently designed to protect the OS from its own users. Most notably, the OS functions were meant to be used only within North Korea, with its anti-virus system getting updates from a North Korean server and its browser pointing only to internal North Korean IP addresses.

Stranger still, even the encryption algorithms of the system have been tweaked so as not to rely on foreign cryptography. – Rappler.com

Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.

image