North Korea operating system RedStar
North Korea's RedStar OS seen in this screenshotReuters

A computer operating system indigenously developed by North Korean techies reflects Kim Jong-un's desire for total control over the nation, experts say. Pyongyang's home-grown RedStar OS, which is based on the Linux operating system, appears to be yet another regime tool to stamp its authority on all information in North Korea.

Two German researchers – Florian Grunow and Niklaus Schiess – pulled apart the North Korean operating system, which closely resembles Apple's Mac OS X, during a presentation at Chaos Communication in Hamburg.

"We found that the features implemented in Red Star OS are the wet dream of a surveillance state dictator. 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 the two researchers who work with the German IT security firm ERNWH GmbH.

RedStar's heavily-encrypted coding, which is thought to have been written around 2013, allows files in USB sticks to be watermarked so as to the track the original user of a document. This is aimed at cracking the whip on files shared via USB drives and microSD cards – which is the usual clandestine practice in the regime-controlled country. RedStar, which is thought to contain all basic user-friendly tools such as word processing and music creation software, is likely based on Fedora 11, the Linux iteration released in 2009, reported Reuters.

The OS would also automatically reboot or shut itself if any its core functionalities such as anti-virus or firewall settings are attempted to be altered. Most of RedStar's codes appear to have been written by North Korean experts themselves, potentially to avoid backdoor snooping by foreign intelligence agencies. Both the inbuilt anti-virus system and web browser – a modified version of Firefox – are directed to internal servers.

In what has been widely seen as an exhaustive study of the RedStar as yet, Grunow and Schiess said: "North Korea abuses the principles of free software to provide an operating system that suppresses free speech. 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."

The customised RedStar is most likely meant for domestic use and Pyongyang has no intentions of making it available outside the country.