North Korea’s OS X clone is a dictator’s ‘wet dream’


A North Korean operating system is seen in this screen shot taken in Seoul December 23, 2015.   REUTERS/James Pearson
You can't complain about North Korea's attention to detail. Especially if you live in the country.
Photo: James Pearson/Reuters

User privacy has been a massive focus for Tim Cook during his time as CEO at Apple, but it’s apparently not an area of much concern for North Korea’s OS X ripoff RedStar OS.

The operating system, which borrows Apple’s “look and feel” but little else, is basically the “wet dream of a surveillance state dictator,” according to security researchers who analyzed RedStar OS.

“It provides a set of surveillance features like the capabilities to watermark different types of files that can be used to track the distribution of documents and multi-media files,” said security researchers Florian Grunow and Niklaus Schuss during a recent presentation at the Chaos Communication conference in Hamburg, Germany. In particular, the 2013-era software watermarks files so the original user can be tracked, thereby helping crack down on illicit files being shared via USB or microSD.

On top of this, the Korean OS X clone automatically reboots or shuts down if antivirus or firewall settings are tampered with, while the inbuilt antivirus and web browser (a modified version of Firefox) are directed to internal servers. I wonder if a klaxon sounds if you try and download controversial comedy The Interview?

RedStar is based on Fedora 11, the Linux version released in 2009. Despite this, it borrows Apple’s user interface for OS X right down to the dock, menu bars, settings, and even the spinning beachball of doom.

“North Korea abuses the principles of free software to provide an operating system that suppresses free speech,” Grunow and Schuss said. “Therefore, we think it is necessary to disclose this information to the public and present the audience on how to get around the limitations introduced by North Korea.”

Source: Reuters


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.