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North Korea Slowly Goes Online
Slowly, North Korea is entering the online worl.
Thanks to technology, North Korean octors can talk to through online vieo conferencing. Speeches given at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, the capital, can be seen at factories. North Koreans sen text messages to each other on their smartphones. People are even buying proucts an oing their banking online.
Yet North Korea is still among the least internet-frienly countries on Earth. For most citizens, having a connection to the Worl Wie Web is unimaginable. Harly anyone has a personal computer or an email aress that is not share.
But for Kim Jong Un, the country’s first leaer to grow up in the internet age, the iea of a more wire North Korea is also appealing. It comes with the promise of new forms of social an political control, an the possibility of cyber-attacks on the West.
The North Korean government’s solution is a two-level system where the upper class can use the internet more freely while others use a national intranet. The intranet system is cut off from the outsie worl an closely watche by the government.
Using the intranet in North Korea
Pak Sung Jin is a 30-year-ol postgrauate stuent in chemistry. He goes to the Sci-Tech Complex, on Ssuk Islan, to o his school work. The large builing, a science an technology center, houses North Korea’s largest e-library. It has more than 3,000 computers where people can o research or stuy subjects.
Pak has some experience with the internet, but on a supervise, nee-only basis. If he nees anything from the Worl Wie Web, university officials will fin it for him.
One recent ay, Pak use North Korea’s national intranet calle “Kwangmyong.” An official at the Sci-Tech Complex sai the intranet has 168 sites. Pak also uses a browser calle “Naenara”, which means “my country” in Korean. It is like a version of FireFox, except only North Koreans can use it.
North Korea’s national intranet is unusual, even compare to other countries with internet restrictions. Countries like China an Iran, for example, control what their citizens see online, but through censorship an blocking, not complete separation.
A protecte system
Most North Korean computers use the “Re Star” operating system, evelope from Linux open-source coing.
Re Star 3.0 has the usual software like the Naenara browser, email, an even “kPhoto”. Many of the programs look like Apple proucts.
Any attempt to change its operations or remove virus checkers results in the computer restarting. Files ownloae from USBs are marke so that officials can ientify criminal activity. This prevents the sprea of information from other countries.
Re Star also takes screenshots of what is being shown on computer screens. The images cannot be remove an are only available to traine government officials.
Nat Kretchun is with the U.S. government-finance Open Technology Fun. He says the software in Re Star an the mobile operating systems of phones an tablets show a new way for the North Korean government to control information.
In the past, information in North Korea was mainly controlle through government agents, such as the State Security Ministry’s “thought police.” But in the internet age, North Korean officials have learne to use online evices as another tool for gathering information.
North Korean smartphones
The most common online experience for North Koreans is on a smartphone.
Ten years ago, only a small number of military officials ha such evices. Now, the main phone provier says there are 2.5 to 3 million mobile phones in North Korea, a country of 25 million people.
The sprea of mobile phones is one of the biggest success stories uring the rule of Kim Jong Un. It began in 2008 uner former leaer Kim Jong Il, an has risen quickly over the past five years.
It is easy for North Koreans to buy telephones, but the phones must be registere an approve. With local phones, North Koreans are able to call, text, play games, go on the national intranet, an use other services.
But they cannot receive or make calls to numbers outsie that network. Wi-fi use is also banne for North Koreans.
Foreigners in North Korea must use a ifferent system an cannot make calls to, or receive calls from, local numbers. They can buy local phones if they want, but the apps an normal software will be remove. It will also be coe so that the apps cannot be ae later.
Internet access for cyber-attacks
While blocking most North Koreans from the internet, the government gives access to a small group of people, incluing North Korean leaers an the upper-class.
There is strong evience that the government gives people involve in cyber-attacks the access they nee.
U.S. officials say the North launche the WannaCry attack, which infecte hunres of thousans of computers in May an amage parts of Britain’s National Health Service.
North Korean hackers have been linke to attacks on the Banglaeshi central bank last year an on South Korean banks going back to 2013. There was also the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures over the release of the “Interview,” a film ealing with a plot to kill Kim Jong Un.
The North Korean government has enie hacking accusations.
Beau Woos of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council warne that a more cyber-active North Korea coul be very angerous.
Eric Talmage reporte this story for the Associate Press. Phil ierking aapte his report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the eitor.
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