Tuesday, March 2, 2010

North Korea Develops 'Red Star' Operating System

(March 2) -- It's not quite Windows 7, but it does have games, an Internet browser and even an e-mail system called Pigeon. Meet Red Star, the new operating system available only in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

North Korea has never been mistaken for a hotbed of cutting-edge technology, but under Juche, the ideology of self-reliance, the government has claimed that it is building up its IT industry, including a much-ballyhooed cyberwarfare capability.

It's hard to substantiate most claims made about North Korea's IT industry, but details of the new operating system were made public by a Russian blogger, who was able to buy a copy of the program off the street. The blogger, who according to his profile is a Russian student studying at a university in the capital, Pyongyang, provides a detailed rundown of the Linux-based operating system.

Red Star includes a Web browser, e-mail, graphics capability and other standard programs. What makes the otherwise standard operating system somewhat unusual is simply that there's almost no personal computer ownership in North Korea, and public access to e-mail and the Internet is virtually nonexistent.

"The main 'intranet' service is provided by the Kwangmyong computer network, which includes a browser, an Internal e-mail program, newsgroups and a search engine," Bertil Lintner, a former correspondant with the Far Eastern Economic Review, wrote in 2007. "Most of its users are government agencies, research institutes, educational organizations -- while only people like Kim Jong-il, a known computer buff, have full Internet access."

Despite those limitations, North Korea has reportedly developed a crack unit of cyberhackers, and a major denial-of-service attack on U.S. and South Korean Web sites last year was allegedly traced back to North Korea.

But Jeff Carr, a cybersecurity expert and the founder of Project Grey Goose, told AOL News that he doubts the Red Star operating system represents a significant advance for the country in the area of IT. "North Korea not only doesn't have a public Internet ... it can barely sustain basic water and power," he said.

"If it does have a Linux-based OS, it's probably something that they got from China -- remember all the hoopla over Kylin?" said Carr, referring to the Chinese operating system that was portrayed as a big advance in cyberwarfare.

All told, there isn't much that differentiates Red Star from other operating systems. Russia Today, picking up on the Russian blog post, notes that the operating system has four familiar-sounding games: "Minesweeper, Klondike solitaire, Jawbreaker and a logic game where the player builds correct chemical formulae."

Perhaps the only major difference is the date. Instead of 2010, Red Star gives the date according to the North Korean Juche calendar based on the date of birth of former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, which makes this the 99th year.
Filed under: World, Tech

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