Governmental Control of Digital Media Distribution in North Korea: Surveillance and Censorship on Modern Consumer Devices

This paper has been written for a talk submission at a conference. Even though it has been rejected, it was too much work to not release it to the public.


Modern devices like PCs and tablet PCs enable users to consume a wide range of media like videos, audio and documents. Introducing such devices in repressive regimes like North Korea (officially Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK) contradicts the objective of controlling and suppressing information within the country and particularly information imported from the outside world. This can be generalized as any information that has not been reviewed and approved by the government. This paper is an effort to evaluate the technical challenges that arise while enabling users to consume or create potentially unwanted media and analyzes two media-controlling mechanisms developed by North Korean government organizations. The analysis covers implementations found in Red Star OS, a Linux-based operating system developed by the Korean Computer Center, and Woolim, an North Korean tablet PC that is based on the Android operating system. We will conclude about the effectiveness and implication on the distribution of digital media within North Korea and how these mechanisms have evolved in the analyzed products over the past several years.