A Brief Look At North Korean Cryptography


With much attention lately over North Korea and its evolving cybersecurity capabilities, we thought to cover a somewhat related topic. A couple of years back, the North Korean Red Star OS was described at the Chaos Computer Club conference. Among other things, they described the watermarking mechanism used by the OS to keep track of media files.

Along with the OS, three kernel modules were identified that appeared to contain homemade encryption algorithms specific to Red Star OS. We will name them after their kernel module names—Jipsam1, Jipsam2, and Pilsung. The former two are present in Red Star OS 2.0, whereas Pilsung is present only in Red Star OS 3.0. We are going to take a look at these, and comment on possible rationales for their design. We will only analyze the algorithms in isolation, as there is not a lot of information on how (or if) they are used. To our knowledge, this is the first time these algorithms are described.