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Published:April 6th, 2010 21:45 EST

North Korea's "Red Star" Software System

By Geoff Dean

  Korea is often declared to be the world`s most computer-literate, wired, online society. Of course, that is the southern version. The northern one apparently lags behind, to say the least.


 The "Red Star" computer operating system has some good and bad points, as all computer operating systems invariably do. On the plus side, according to a Reuters report, it has "good startup music", the Korean folk song "Arirang", which is popular on both sides of the border. And it features world-class security programs designed to keep tabs on who accesses what and to keep outsiders, outside.

 On the downside, it features a few knockoff Microsoft programs of ten years ago (word processing, spread sheet, and a few others) and little else. It`s lack of programming means that the few North Koreans with clearance to use computers will hardly get much benefit out of the experience.

 As for web surfing, the Internet is limited to a handful of acceptable sites, accessible by a handful of specially registered individuals and never without supervision. The whole system is so closed and limited that experts in the South declared that widespread distribution of the system will be near impossible even "within North Korea."

 The whole system seems to have two main purposes. First, it maintains the facade of Internet access while in fact, more or less, denying it. And more importantly, it provides an opening for North Korean crack cyberwarfare units, among the best in the world, according to some intelligence officials in the South.

 Even for the elite North Korean who happens to get permission to access the Internet, they will find it hard to learn how to use it. Computer Science classes in the North are generally run using photocopied pages of computer monitors as it would be too dangerous to let students have access to their own computers.

 If the North and South someday reunite, as many expect and hope, the digital divide may be one of the most serious challenges to face the newly united entity.