The North Korean computer operating system, “Red Star,” is seen on a computer monitor. / Korea Times
By Kim Tong-hyung
North Korea, the planet's deepest information void, appears to have its own computer operating system. Not that it puts Microsoft Windows to shame.
According to researchers at South Korea's Science and Technology Policy Institute (STEPI), North Korea's Linux-based "RED Star" software is mainly designed to monitor the Web behavior of its citizens and control information made available to them.
However, the computer operating system does represent North Korean efforts to advance its computer technology, which lags as a result of the country's isolation, relying on Linux and other open-source software, said Kim Jong-seon, a STEPI researcher.
"The fact that North Korea established a computer operating system to control the flow of information within the country is meaningful in itself. By improving its ability to develop Linux-based programs, North Korea seems to be looking to expand the use of its computer programs in more areas," he said.
"There hasn't been any research on North Korean computer operating systems and other software, and we need to assess the level of technology as well as the attempts to overcome the years of isolation through open source programs."
Prior to developing Red Star in 2002, the North Korean government relied on the English version of Microsoft Windows, according to STEPI.
An analysis of Red Start 1.1, the version used around April 2008, suggests that the North Korean operating system is designed to provide a desktop environment similar to that of Microsoft Windows.
North Korea's Korea Computer Center (KCC), which developed the software, has been consistently providing updated versions of the operating system, STEPI said.
Red Star's programs include the "Uri 2.0" office application, based on the Linux Open Office, a "Naenara" (my country) Web browser, which is a variation of Firefox, a file-sharing program, and also a program to enable selected Microsoft applications.
One of the key features of Red Star is security-enhanced Linux (SELinux), which enables mandatory access control policies that limit user programs and systems servers to the minimum amount of freedom they require to do their jobs, STEPI said.
It's hard to imagine Red Star, which supports only the Korean language, being used anywhere outside of North Korea, considering the complicated Web of local requirements, lack of compatibility and dearth of applications.
According to STEPI, a Russian student in Pyongyang recently purchased an updated version of Red Star and introduced it on his blog, which was probably the very first export of the software.