Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 8th Jan 2015 20:15 UTC
Linux

The latest version of North Korea's custom Linux distribution, Red Star OS - that one with the OS X style interface - has leaked onto the internet. While the guy who talked about technology in North Korea on the 31C3 conference said he didn't see anybody using Red Star seriously, it's an interesting distro to check out.

While we're making jokes about North Korea, it's easy to forget that regime puts millions of people in concentration camps to starve and murder them.

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Christ
by krakal on Thu 8th Jan 2015 22:08 UTC
krakal
Member since:
2015-01-03

When did OSN get so god damn political...

It's easy to forget that children in Africa starves while I eat my pizza, and that women in Syria is abused when I caress my wife.

Reply Score: 12

RE: Christ
by rihno on Fri 9th Jan 2015 10:25 UTC in reply to "Christ"
rihno Member since:
2014-12-18

+1 to that

This is supposed to be a site exploring the future of computing, instead we get all kinds of unrelated crap about women in gaming and concentration camps in North Korea. All very important topics, but take it elsewhere.

Reply Score: 4

RE[2]: Christ
by davidiwharper on Sat 10th Jan 2015 10:21 UTC in reply to "RE: Christ"
davidiwharper Member since:
2006-01-01

I wasn't going to comment in this sub-thread, but then YouTube recommended this video to me just now (thanks, Google!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZEmDpkz0g4

Stalin allegedly once said that "one death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic". Although the quote is probably misattributed, it's a good explanation for why we sometimes find it hard to feel as bad as perhaps we should about North Korea. Stories like Ms Park's remind us that like Stalinist Russia before it, the DPRK regime (unfortunately abetted by China) is as close as one can get to the purest embodiment of evil in this particular time and place.

That's worth acknowledging and remembering even as we have fun playing with their operating system. "There but for the grace of God go I."

Edited 2015-01-10 10:22 UTC

Reply Score: 3

v RE[3]: Christ
by krakal on Sat 10th Jan 2015 12:26 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Christ"
RE[4]: Christ
by davidiwharper on Sun 11th Jan 2015 00:10 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Christ"
davidiwharper Member since:
2006-01-01

Now that I can respect. See how you can give constructive criticism without going totally over the top?

Reply Score: 2

Surprisingly sophisticated
by davidiwharper on Thu 8th Jan 2015 22:10 UTC
davidiwharper
Member since:
2006-01-01

I had a play with this distro the other day, and it is surprisingly sophisticated for what should, based on sanctions, be a technologically stone-age regime. (Looking at photos of the newly renovated May Day stadium in Pyongyang is like jumping into a '70s time capsule.)

A quick note on the howto before I get into my thoughts. The quickest way to change the language is to use sed once you get the root console going:

sed -i 's/ko_KP/en_US/g' /etc/sysconfig/i18n
sed -i 's/ko_KP/en_US/g' /usr/share/config/kdeglobals

Although a lot of the user-facing software is very old (KDE 3.5.1, Firefox 3.5, LibreOffice 3.5), the engineers have clearly spent a lot of time (a) making the whole interface work nicely and (b) locking the distro down so that ordinary users can't do anything they're not supposed to do.

In terms of the interface, they really have gone all out OS X on the KDE 3.5 base. There is a global menu which works in not only native UI apps but also Firefox and LibreOffice, an abstracted file system on top of the FHS, plus a CD/USB drag-to-trash eject system. There's even an OSX-style .app system, although how functional it is remains unclear.

They've also extensively modified their applications so that the UIs are consistent, and created what I can only describe as a fork of Anaconda, the system installer. Strange to say maybe, but Korean-language issues aside, I actually think that the experience is great and that the distro is easier to use than a lot of the other Windows & Mac clones out there.

Regarding the locking down, the article highlights the main issues - a special iptables configuration, so that the North Korean "intranet" is all that works by default, and no root, so you can't poke around too much. The only thing I would add is that there's also an "Activity Monitor" package, that doesn't show up for the end user and which I'm assuming phones home to the North Korean secret police if one is inside the DPRK. Once you get root, do rpm -e activitymonitor to remove it.

Edited 2015-01-08 22:12 UTC

Reply Score: 12

Is it Spyware?
by mattsaved on Thu 8th Jan 2015 23:18 UTC
mattsaved
Member since:
2014-03-24

Is anyone skeptical of if North Korea leaked this intentionally with spyware preinstalled for hacking purposes. Make it look enticing so people want to try it. Go ahead install it in vmware, but don't use any passwords while using it. Can anyone prove me wrong?

Reply Score: 1

RE: Is it Spyware?
by davidiwharper on Thu 8th Jan 2015 23:54 UTC in reply to "Is it Spyware?"
davidiwharper Member since:
2006-01-01

The activity monitor aside, I don't think it's spyware. I installed it in VMware and there didn't appear to be any network communication going on. More importantly, if it was a "false flag" plot there would probably be an easier way to change the language. In the LibreOffice variant they actually took the time to remove the ability to switch to another interface language.

Finally, North Korean hacking seems to be very specific in its goals, so unless you are in South Korea, a national military or Sony I'm not sure they'd be all that interested.

Having said all that, obviously proceed with caution if you do try it out.

Reply Score: 6

RE: Is it Spyware?
by Bobthearch on Fri 9th Jan 2015 02:14 UTC in reply to "Is it Spyware?"
Bobthearch Member since:
2006-01-27

That did cross my mind.

Reply Score: 2

Curiosity
by jpkx1984 on Fri 9th Jan 2015 02:46 UTC
jpkx1984
Member since:
2015-01-06

I will stay with my Arch Linux: rolling release, up-to-date packages, no Korean by default and easy root access ;) I wonder if packaging of the old KDE is intentional to maintain user-friendliness and lower hardware requirements in a country where resources are scarce.

Edited 2015-01-09 02:56 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE: Curiosity
by CapEnt on Fri 9th Jan 2015 14:25 UTC in reply to "Curiosity"
CapEnt Member since:
2005-12-18

I think they packaged a old KDE because they don't have means to keep up with the development on mainstream up-to-date KDE, not because a hardware constraint.

Just their locale modifications are quite extensive, the Korean dialect used in north diverges from what we have in south, and i don't think the regime would allow any of their developers to work with the KDE global team. So, to use any new software release, all modifications needs to be ported all over again.

Reply Score: 3

Comment by judgen
by judgen on Fri 9th Jan 2015 02:51 UTC
judgen
Member since:
2006-07-12

Beware the NATO war justification propaganda about NK, it is hard to know what is true and false with the Iraq "weapons of mass destruction" of 2003 debacle in the back of one's head.

SK will be in control of their own defense soon when the US is pulling out some of the permanent forces, guess whom the South Koreans will be buying their military equipment from?

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by judgen
by davidiwharper on Fri 9th Jan 2015 07:10 UTC in reply to "Comment by judgen"
davidiwharper Member since:
2006-01-01

This is pretty off-topic, but anyway...

Unlike far-away, poorly armed opponents like the Taliban (more a militia than a real army) and the Saddam Hussein-era Iraqi army (which melted away when Iraq was invaded), North Korea is not a tempting target. It has a huge army (1.2 million, plus 600K reserves and ~5.8m paramilitary personnel), with high-end artillery, warships [recently the DPRK flagship has been upgraded from Soviet-era to modern weapons], submarines [allegedly undergoing modernisation so they can carry ballistic missiles], probably chemical weapons, and definitely nuclear weapons. It also has no oil and a population that any conqueror would have to spend billions of dollars to feed (since the DPRK has been receiving food aid since the '90s).

While it would be suicide for North Korea to launch a war against the South, it would also be extremely damaging for the South (and probably the U.S. via its bases in South Korea and Japan) to be drawn into a conflict. During the last Korean war the North swept through the entire peninsula before being repulsed; not to mention that if the regime felt that the situation were terminal they could choose to use their nuclear arsenal as a last resort. That's the definition of a stalemate, and while you are right that the military-industrial complex will take the opportunity to sell a lot of weapons, the chance of them being used is hopefully very, very small.

Even the yahoo George W Bush Administration proposed and led negotiations with North Korea, the Six Party Talks, and the trigger-happy Republican Senators in America who constantly demand bombing or other actions in the Middle East (Iran, Syria, Libya), say nothing of the sort about North Korea.

Edited 2015-01-09 07:11 UTC

Reply Score: 5

RE[2]: Comment by judgen
by neticspace on Fri 9th Jan 2015 11:09 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by judgen"
neticspace Member since:
2009-06-09

and the trigger-happy Republican Senators in America who constantly demand bombing or other actions in the Middle East (Iran, Syria, Libya), say nothing of the sort about North Korea.

And this is why so many South Koreans believe that the US government is protecting North Korea and the Dear Leader.

Reply Score: 4

RE[3]: Comment by judgen
by davidiwharper on Sat 10th Jan 2015 04:44 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by judgen"
davidiwharper Member since:
2006-01-01

Kim Jong Un doesn't use the title "Dear Leader" AFAIK. KCNA calls him variously "the respected KJU", "the dear respected KJU" and "the respected Marshal KJU" (due to his position as Marshal of the DPRK, appointed 17 July 2012). According to Daily NK he is colloquially referred to as "the Marshal" by the public.

... for what it's worth :-)

Reply Score: 3

RE[3]: Comment by judgen
by Soulbender on Mon 12th Jan 2015 07:31 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by judgen"
Soulbender Member since:
2005-08-18

It's kinda ironic that it if hadn't been for the US there wouldn't have been a split Korea in the first place.

Reply Score: 2

No thanks
by Xaero_Vincent on Fri 9th Jan 2015 07:36 UTC
Xaero_Vincent
Member since:
2006-08-18

Looks like it has an ancient userland with ancient software--Firefox 3.5...Really?! If it doesn't have backdoors, it's probably loaded full of security holes with such outdated software.

Reply Score: 1

RE: No thanks
by jpkx1984 on Fri 9th Jan 2015 08:40 UTC in reply to "No thanks"
jpkx1984 Member since:
2015-01-06

The whole DPRK is secured by obscurity ;)

Reply Score: 1

RE: No thanks
by unclefester on Fri 9th Jan 2015 09:06 UTC in reply to "No thanks"
unclefester Member since:
2007-01-13

It is designed to work on an intranet with zero malware. It doesn't need any security.

Reply Score: 6

RE: No thanks
by davidiwharper on Fri 9th Jan 2015 09:43 UTC in reply to "No thanks"
davidiwharper Member since:
2006-01-01

You'd be surprised how modern the interface feels. They've invested a lot of time in doing the OS X rip-off. It's very convincing - to the point where if you close a window down, the application remains open and the global menu shows the application-specific options.

Sure the applications are old, but it's a closed society with an "intranet" instead of the real internet. There's no non-approved websites to go to and everyone else is using either typewriters or an even older version of OpenOffice. You can see the sort of stuff that they put on their interweb at http://www.naenara.com.kp/ (hint: it's all propaganda, although the magazine is still kind of fun).

Reply Score: 4

Comment by neticspace
by neticspace on Fri 9th Jan 2015 11:00 UTC
neticspace
Member since:
2009-06-09

Maybe I'll try using it. Since I can understand some decent amount of Standard Korean based in Pyongyang.

But so far, the South Korean government wiretaps on everything within South Korea. And this is why I have to type English on KakaoTalk to my Korean colleagues and friends when we talk about domestic politics.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by neticspace
by darknexus on Fri 9th Jan 2015 14:47 UTC in reply to "Comment by neticspace"
darknexus Member since:
2008-07-15

/q=But so far, the South Korean government wiretaps on everything within South Korea. And this is why I have to type English on KakaoTalk to my Korean colleagues and friends when we talk about domestic politics. [/q]
That doesn't even make sense. If they're wiretapping everything, how do you think using English is going to keep you safe from that? Do you believe that they don't employ people who understand English and/or other widespread languages?

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Comment by neticspace
by neticspace on Sat 10th Jan 2015 00:21 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by neticspace"
neticspace Member since:
2009-06-09

Speaking in English is the safest way to survive in South Korea. That's why it's so popular.

Reply Score: 3

RE[3]: Comment by neticspace
by avgalen on Mon 12th Jan 2015 16:56 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by neticspace"
avgalen Member since:
2010-09-23

Speaking in English is the safest way to survive in South Korea. That's why it's so popular.

Wait, are you saying that anyone is in danger of getting killed in SOUTH Korea when they are discussing politics? You are making that up right?
[wikipedia]Since the first free election in 1987, South Koreans have enjoyed high civil liberties and a vibrant democracy ranked second in Asia on the Democracy Index[/wikipedia]

Reply Score: 2

As much as I dislike North Korea
by belal1 on Fri 9th Jan 2015 20:00 UTC
belal1
Member since:
2013-05-25

You gotta admit, the OS seems pretty damn polished. Not that I dare fire up the OS on my PC but the way it's described shows the amount of time and dedication they put in making it. Sure the government is a menace, but perhaps someone will pick up the distro, hack it, and make it better?

Reply Score: 2

davidiwharper Member since:
2006-01-01

If one could get the source code (which AFAIK hasn't been leaked - I imagine the North Koreans don't feel the need to comply with the GPL) a lot of the patches could be applicable to the Trinity Desktop Environment, which really would make a great project.

Reply Score: 3

Comment by BBAP
by Bringbackanonposting on Fri 9th Jan 2015 21:42 UTC
Bringbackanonposting
Member since:
2005-11-16

Good on you davidiwharper and others for taking the time to have a look. Despite most of us not needing/wanting to have anything to do with this distro for many reasons, it's always an advantage to learn/acknowledge others work (even if they are stuck in NK).

Reply Score: 3

Yeah democracy
by stereotype on Mon 12th Jan 2015 21:00 UTC
stereotype
Member since:
2007-04-06

What about the South? The current president is a self-adoring psychopath lady (that literally thinks she is a princess because of her presidential lineage) that was put in place in a clearly rigged election that involved their FBI equivalent. All forms of electronic communication are actively monitored by people actually sitting in front of PCs all day. The press is not allowed to report on the massive protests by the crowds that want change... Samsung and Daewoo just buy anyone or anything they need... Yeah democracy! I am a westerner, but almost got arrested in one of the many protests they've been having there for the past five years... luckily somehow they let me go when they saw my face...

Reply Score: 1

Re:
by kurkosdr on Tue 13th Jan 2015 00:48 UTC
kurkosdr
Member since:
2011-04-11

Ironically, Red Star OS could be the only distro ISVs could target, since it's not a constantly shifting compatibility target like every other Linux distro out there.

On the other hand most modern FOSS software wouldn't run on it.

Reply Score: 2