North Korea has reportedly been allowing its citizens to use more of its intranet, which is fire-walled from the Internet, as it expands its online activities. Alongside, the reclusive nation's citizens can also now reportedly get their hands on local knockoffs of tech giant Apple's products, including a North Korean version of the popular iPad.
Kim Jong-un's love for Apple products is well known and the dictator has previously been photographed using a Macbook Pro and an iMac. It now appears that the North's "obsession" with Apple may extend beyond consumer electronics, into borrowing and tweaking the US company's technology to create its own advanced software to tighten surveillance on its citizens.
As part of the intranet service expansion, some of the hermit kingdom's citizens can now make use of online services such as e-shopping cards, online banking and even consult doctors via video conference calls. But all this is done on North Korea's own version of the internet – called "Kwangmyong" (translation – brightness or light).
Despite the reported increase in online activities, Pyongyang still takes extreme measures to monitor and curtail people from accessing the World Wide Web. The dictatorial regime has reportedly enforced a two-tiered system which allows the trusted elite members of the regime to surf the internet relatively freely, while restricting the masses within an online 'walled garden'.
The Apple influence
Experts believe that North Korea's own Red Star operating system may have a feature similar to the one Apple uses in its iOS and OS X software, the Associated Press reported. The tech giant uses the feature to block unauthorised apps from its app store, but Pyongyang appears to have tweaked it to censor information.
The country now also has its own version of Apple products, with local companies recently launching products like the "Jindallae (Azalea) III" mobile phone and the nonchalantly named "Ryonghung iPad", according to reports. Both the devices are said to be copycat versions of Apple's products.
The all-seeing Red Star
Pyongyang's stranglehold over its citizens' online activities is two-pronged. The first comes from the limited number of websites available on Kwangmyong – only 168. Second, the the regime does extensive surveillance of its citizens's online activities and restricts them through Red Star.
The AP reported that Red Star automatically reboots if it detects any attempts to disable its security protocols or core functions. The OS also packs spy features, including the ability to capture screenshots. Any files downloaded from USB drives are watermarked to help track undesirable activity – an added measure to stop the propagation of unauthorised content from the outside world.
The copying of Apple's techniques may reflect on Pyongyang's advanced cyber capabilities which have been in display in recent months. The regime's so-called cyber warriors have recently made headlines, with various governments accusing them of launching multiple cyberattacks on a global scale.
Pyongyang's hackers reportedly amassed over $1bn from various attacks over the past year, hinting at the success of the its ingenious money-making scheme.