China’s internet authorities have spent a great amount of resources on building its “great wall“, which makes content unwanted by the government unavailable to mainland China’s internet users. But despite tight restrictions and repeated crackdowns over recent years, Beijing is careful to always leave the door open, just enough to let some information shine through.
They do this in part because it would be impossible to completely control the internet, and in part because this tiny bit of openness serves as a pressure valve of sorts, giving more educated elites the illusion of freedom. By now China is so deeply integrated into the world economy, that trying to sever it from the world wide web would have huge economic consequences for the country. What is perceived as a cost (potential dissidents gaining information through western media) is far outweighed by the benefit of keeping in step with global technological progress. Cracks in the wall, are a feature, not a bug.
North Korea, however, is a different story. Its people are so stricken by poverty, its citizens so deeply deceived, that any glimpse of a different world could bring the regime to its knees. A firewall, in other words, of the Chinese kind, would simply not suffice.
This is why Pyongyang has not build a system to safeguard the country from the vile influence of the world wide web, but instead a completely unique OS, which runs on North Korean computers and enables the government to directly regulate access to North Koreas very limited intranet.
Other than in China, websites are not banned when they are considered harmful, it works the other way around. Only websites that completely follow the official line are admitted in the first place.
And through its very own operating system, aptly named Red Star, the government can log which sites are visited from any computer that is running it. But there is more:
Because the internet in North Korea is so restricted, files containing real information are often shared using USB devices.
Red Star has a solution for this as well:
It creates mirror images of all files uploaded to a computer, and shares this information with the government.
10 years in the making, Red Star is based on Linux but looks and feels like Apple’s OSX, with many of the designs seemingly copy-pasted over without much change.
Much of the code is controlled by the North Koreans, who seem to think that this makes them less vulnerable to cyber attacks.
The paranoia is topped off by a built in safety function that causes the computer to reboot if a user tries to disable the firewall.
Here is a what the system looks like: