North Korea uses unique encryption method

North Korea uses unique encryption method
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North Korea has developed a domestic operating system that relies on its own version of encrypted data in order to avoid foreign surveillance, according to two German IT researchers, Reuters reports.

"This is a full blown operating system where they control most of the code," said Florian Grunow, who together with Niklaus Schiess presented the findings at the security summit Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg on Sunday.

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Their report comes admidst ongoing debate in the U.S. over the use of end-to-end encryption to shield private communications. Law enforcement officials are concerned that the technology, which is growing more and more popular as a legitimate means of providing online security, shields terrorists and other criminals from needed surveillance.

North Korea’s closed intranet does not connect with the global Internet but does allow access to state-sponsored and some state-approved sites.

The country has been developing its own operating system for over a decade. Researchers say the latest version, built on a version of Linux, is a unique system from the major Western operating systems, Microsoft Windows and Apple’s Mac OS.

"Maybe this is a bit fear-driven," Grunow said. "They may want to be independent of other operating systems because they fear back doors" that could allow other nations to spy on their communications.

The so-called Red Star system is also very difficult for users to tamper with, the researchers said, and is designed in part to crack down on the dissemination of illegal material — like foreign movies, music and writing.

Red Star places a digital watermark on every file, allowing it to track anyone who has ever opened the file.

"It's definitely privacy invading, it's not transparent to the user," said Grunow. "It's done stealthily, and touches files you haven't even opened."

The researchers say the operating system does not show any evidence of being capable of the kind of cyberattack that North Korea has been accused of conducting.

Grunow and Schiess said they have no way to know how many computers are running the new operating system.