Archive for the ‘Computing/IT’ Category

Attempts to Introduce Cutting-edge IT

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

In its column from Pyongyang published on October 24, Chosun Sinbo (a North Korean newspaper in Japan) reports that using North Korean information technology, new attempts have been made starting this year to stimulate collectivistic competition.

The newspaper could not conceal its excitement saying that the aim was the global cutting edge, with efforts being the ‘National Information Technology Results Exhibition’ causing a “sensation.”

According to the report, ‘National Information Technology Results Exhibition 2016’ was held in the Three Revolutions Exhibition Hall, and was entitled “Self-strength First and the Fires of Collectivist Competition, Global Competitiveness.”

The report described the purpose of the exhibit as follows: “the units introducing and extolling the achievements of the country in IT technology and industry, showing the domestically produced, advanced information technology products will cause other units to learn and catch up, stimulating collectivist competition, and driving forward ‘our style of modernization and information technology’.”

A full 260 units displayed 1,000 products at the exhibit.

The newspaper informed readers that “in capitalist countries it is mainly companies that develop, produce and sell information technology products that participate in such exhibits; but in Korea there is a greater range of participants. . . . Beyond IT sector units, committees, ministerial and central institutions, educational and scientific research institutions, factories and other workplaces were all in attendance.”

Certificates and medals were awarded to ‘the top ten IT Companies’ and ‘top ten IT products’.

The newspaper reports that “Korea’s own OS, Red Star 3.0, based on Linux, was also named a ‘Top ten IT product’. . . . Red Star can be seen as a core product in the drive to bring in ‘our form of IT’, and is being widely used across public institutions, with it being popular among students too, who are sensitive to new things.”

Moreover, the newspaper boasted that “the OS, developed by the Red Star Research Institute, is distributed as freeware . . . realizing the push to bring information technology through collective means rather than through an economy of commodities and private ownership.”

The newspaper also expressed the hope that, “collectivist competition, characteristically socialist competition in a country aiming to development and strengthen . . . IT is the area expected to produce the fastest development, with endless leaps and innovations.”

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Push for the Development of IT Industry in North Korea

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern studies (IFES)

North Korea is pushing the development of the IT industry. The “2016 National IT Achievements Exhibit” demonstrates the current state of affairs in the industry.

On October 5th, the official organ of the Workers Party of Korea (WPK), Rodong Sinmun, reported in detail of this exhibit. It said, “The exhibit was held under the theme of ‘self-strength-first, collective competition, and global competitiveness’.” In addition, it also reported, “The goal of the exhibit is to introduce and promote the accomplishments of the IT industry and push forward with modernization of IT technology in our own style and hold steadfast to every unit and part of science and technology as our lifeline.”

According to the news, the exhibit displayed 1,000 technical products from 260 units. There were new product presentations, discussions on the usage of products, security industry competition, and cutting-edge product exchange service, which was divided into four areas that included the IT enterprise and information security.

Units with exemplary IT—top ten IT companies, and top ten IT products—were selected based on the technical achievements and economic effectiveness.

At the opening ceremony, the Vice-Chairman of the WPK Central Committee Kim Ki Nam said, “The Party line on the science and technology is fully realized and we seized the global fortresses of cutting-edge technological sectors including IT. Now, many factories and work places of the people’s economy, enterprises have transformed to become a standard of the knowledge economy era.”

He also said, “This exhibit is an important step towards the development of globally competitive IT technology and raised the overall standard of the IT industry.” He also encouraged, “the participants to fully accept the achievements and experiences of leading units.”

Such emphasis on the development of IT can be associated with the recent reports from the Party Central Committee at the 7th Party Congress back in May, and the decision adopted by the Party Congress. According to these documents, a strong science-technology state means “a country that has reached the cutting-edge global standards in science and technology and a country where all sectors including the economy, national defense, and culture rapidly advance through the leading role played by science and technology.”

In North Korean terms, a state strong in science and technology not only encompasses IT, nanotechnology, biotech, and nuclear technologies, but also reaches global research standards in fields including machine engineering, metallurgical engineering, thermal engineering, and material engineering, (i.e., major fields of engineering), as well as the basic sciences like mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. Furthermore, the aim is to produce and launch more working satellites in order to contribute to the construction of a ‘major space power’ with space science and technology capabilities.

In addition, a state strong in science and technology has placed science and technology as the main locomotive behind economic development to resolve essential problems of energy, steel, chemical products and food. Science and technology also plays the leading role in modernizing the economy and IT.

This means through the advancement of science and technology, it is attempting to resolve energy issues through the development of nuclear power and environmentally friendly energy. It also involves the development of technologies like Juche steel production technology (the production of steel that minimizes the use of imported fuel) in order to localize raw material and equipment production that is currently import-dependent as well as achieve modernization of light industry and agricultural production through scientific and industrial methods.

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DPRK Cyber attacks 2016

Friday, May 27th, 2016

UPDATE 1 (2016-5-26): DPRK Linked to attacks on Swift. According to the New York Times:

Security researchers have tied the recent spate of digital breaches on Asian banks to North Korea, in what they say appears to be the first known case of a nation using digital attacks for financial gain.

In three recent attacks on banks, researchers working for the digital security firm Symantec said, the thieves deployed a rare piece of code that had been seen in only two previous cases: the hacking attack at Sony Pictures in December 2014 and attacks on banks and media companies in South Korea in 2013. Government officials in the United States and South Korea have blamed those attacks on North Korea, though they have not provided independent verification.

On Thursday, the Symantec researchers said they had uncovered evidence linking an attack at a bank in the Philippines last October with attacks on Tien Phong Bank in Vietnam in December and one in February on the central bank of Bangladesh that resulted in the theft of more than $81 million.

“If you believe North Korea was behind those attacks, then the bank attacks were also the work of North Korea,” said Eric Chien, a security researcher at Symantec, who found that identical code was used across all three attacks.

“We’ve never seen an attack where a nation-state has gone in and stolen money,” Mr. Chien added. “This is a first.”

The attacks have raised alarms in the global banking industry because the thieves gained access to Swift, a Brussels-based banking consortium that runs what is considered the world’s most secure payment messaging system. Swift’s system is used by 11,000 banks and companies to move money from one country to another — one reason that it is a tempting target for criminals.

Swift has warned publicly that the attacks are part of a broad coordinated assault on banks, though it has not assigned blame. It has also emphasized that it was the banks’ connection points to its network — and not the core Swift messaging network itself — that the attackers were able to breach. Also, American bankers have noted that the security lapses all occurred at banks in third-world countries, which may give some comfort to banking customers in the United States.

Security researchers and American government officials have tied thousands of attacks to nations in the past. They have linked the United States and Israel to an attack that destroyed Iranian centrifuges, and the Chinese military and contractors to attacks that stole military and trade secrets from thousands of foreign entities.

Continue reading the main story
RELATED COVERAGE

Hackers’ $81 Million Sneak Attack on World Banking APRIL 30, 2016

Details Emerge on Global Bank Heists by Hackers MAY 13, 2016

Once Again, Thieves Enter Swift Financial Network and Steal MAY 12, 2016
But the latest spate of attacks on banks in Bangladesh and Southeast Asia would be the first time, security researchers say, that a nation has used malicious code to steal purely for financial profit.

The idea that Pyongyang had turned to digital theft would not be surprising. North Korea’s economy has been ravaged by sanctions, food shortages and other deprivations. Pyongyang does not publish economic data, but estimates have put North Korea’s gross domestic product between $12 billion and $40 billion, tiny when compared with South Korea’s economic output of more than $1.4 trillion.

In the attack at Bangladesh’s central bank in February, the thieves tried to transfer $1 billion in funds from an account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Fed officials became suspicious of the some of requested transfers and released only $81 million to accounts in the Philippines.

“If you presume it’s North Korea, $1 billion is almost 10 percent of their G.D.P.,” Mr. Chien said. “This is not small change for them.”

Symantec researchers said it was possible that the bank in the Philippines containing the North Korean code was also involved in the Bangladesh bank scheme and the attempted breach on the Vietnamese bank. The researchers would not identify the Philippines bank and did not say whether the thieves had been successful in transferring funds. Researchers were able to confirm only that the attackers had managed to breach the bank and install identical code strings on the bank’s computer systems — the same code that they discovered in Bangladesh, Vietnam and the two previous attacks at Sony in 2014 and South Korea in 2013.

Mr. Chien noted that the attackers not only used identical numbers but wrote the code in the same, unusual sequence across all three attacks.

Mr. Chien said the evidence pointed to all three attacks being the work of the “Lazarus Group,” a name his team gave to the attackers behind the Sony and South Korean attacks.

Officials have pointed to North Korea’s threat of “merciless countermeasures” against Sony if the studio released “The Interview,” a movie by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg that made fun of North Korea and includes a fictional assassination of its leader. F.B.I. analysts also note critical mistakes North Korean hackers made, such as logging into their attack servers from known North Korean Internet addresses and even logging into both their Facebook account and Sony’s servers from the same computers.

In the months since evidence of the attacks involving the Swift network started to emerge, investigators have been looking for commonalities at numerous other potential breaches. It remains unclear whether these breaches are connected to the ones in Bangladesh and Vietnam, but they too have occurred in or around Southeast Asia.

There is no evidence to date that the thieves have gone after large American or European banks, though new possible attacks are being reported weekly. Last week, evidence emerged that Banco del Austro, an Ecuadorean bank, was infiltrated by hackers who were also able to sneak onto the Swift network. The thieves transferred several million dollars to accounts around the world, according to a lawsuit the bank filed in federal court in the United States against Wells Fargo, which facilitated one of the transfers.

Researchers have yet to unearth any of the code used in the Ecuador attack, but banking analysts say it is probably no coincidence that these attacks are happening in the developing world, where security measures tend not to be as tight as they are in financial hubs like New York and London.

Swift has issued numerous warnings in recent weeks urging banks to step up their security protocols. Analysts worry that the breaches could have a chilling effect on global finance; larger banks may become reluctant or even refuse to transact with smaller banks in the developing world unless they can have assurances that their networks have not been compromised by thieves and malware.

At a conference on Tuesday in Brussels, Swift’s chief executive, Gottfried Leibbrandt, said the recent attacks could do far more damage than breaches on retailers and telephone companies, which he said suffer largely reputational and legal hits.

“Banks that are compromised like this can be put out of business,” Mr. Leibbrandt said.

North Korea has long been known for creative attempts to generate badly needed hard currency. In the last decade, United States government officials accused North Korea of counterfeiting $100 bills, which were known as “superdollars” or “supernotes” because the fakes were nearly flawless. The Federal Reserve began thwarting that effort by circulating a new $100 bill over the last three years that makes counterfeiting nearly impossible: The redesigned $100 is easier to authenticate and harder to replicate.

“North Korea is hurting for money,” said Herb Lin, the senior research scholar for cyberpolicy and security at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. “They’ve been cut out of the financial system because of sanctions. They had been among the best counterfeiters in the world, and only recently have they been stymied in the counterfeiting of superdollars. If it’s true that we’ve cut them off from that, then it’s not at all surprising that they would turn to something else.”

Read the full story here:
North Korea Linked to Digital Attacks on Global Banks
New York Times
2016-5-26

ORIGINAL POST (2016-5-27): Swift hack linked to Sony hack. According to The Guardian:

Security researchers Symantec have found clues in the malware used to hack into international financial messaging network Swift, which suggest a link to the Sony Pictures hack in 2014.

At least three banks have reported financial attacks based on the Swift hack. In February, Bangladesh’s central bank lost $81m (£55m) after fraudulent messages were sent through the network instructing a transfer to an account in the Philippines. In May, a Vietnamese bank came forward to say that it had been targeted by the hackers as well, and had managed to stop a $1m transfer. And later that month, Reuters revealed that a third bank, Ecuador’s Banco del Austro, had also fallen prey.

At heart, all the hacks relied on social engineering as much as technical talent. Once the attackers gained fraudulent access to the Swift network, they simply messaged the banks’ banks, and asked for funds to be transferred – which, generally, they were. The Bangladesh case only came to light because a typo in one of the instructions alerted a worker.

But in order to gain access to the network, the attackers used a specific type of malware, dubbed Trojan.Banswift by Symantec.

The security research firm analysed the malware used in the Bangladesh attack, and found what it describes as “a distinct file wiping code”. The way the software deleted files was like little else the company had seen, but it had been seen in one other piece of malware, a specimen named Backdoor.Contopee, which had been used to hack into financial organisations in south-east Asia.

Programmers often have quirks that make it into their code, and they also reuse code between projects. Symantec says it believes “distinctive code shared between families and the fact that Backdoor.Contopee was being used in limited targeted attacks against financial institutions in the region, means these tools can be attributed to the same group.”

That means the hackers, who gained public notoriety with the Bangladesh hack, may have been attacking financial institutions for much longer than previously thought.

But it also links them to a wider group of hackers. The Backdoor.Contopee malware has previously been used by a group known as Lazarus, which has been attacking businesses and commercial operations across the US and South Korea for the last six years. And Lazarus, in turn, is “linked” to another piece of software, Backdoor.Destover, which was used in the 2014 hacking attack against Sony, which the FBI ended up attributing to the North Korean state.

The link is not conclusive, however. Hacking groups often share and sell code, and the Sony Pictures hack is several degrees removed from the Swift attacks.

What’s more, Lazarus was severely disrupted earlier this year, Symantec says. “The group was the target of a cross-industry initiative known as Operation Blockbuster earlier this year, which involved major security vendors sharing intelligence and resources in order to assist commercial and government organizations in protecting themselves against Lazarus.”

Swift itself has promised to improve its security following the hacks. According to Information Security magazine, the group’s chief executive offered up a new plan for change. Gottfried Leibbrandt said: “Banks can learn from one another about the modus operandi and put better preventative measures in place; entities like Swift can serve as the information sharing channel, and we can develop indicators of compromise to help those banks improve their detective capabilities.

“We are doing so,” he added, “But information sharing needs to get better, much better.”

Read the full story here:
Swift network bank thefts ‘linked’ to Sony Pictures hack
The Guardian
2016-5-27

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Growth of ‘knowledge economy’ in the Kim Jong Un era

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

According to a report published by the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STEPI), since the beginning of his rule, Kim Jong Un has clarified the ‘knowledge economy’ as important as he actively restructures the science and technology system, promotes the high-tech industry, expands education, and boosts the morale of scientists and technicians.

The report, entitled ‘Changes and Implications of the Science and Technology Policy in the Kim Jong Un Era,’ noted that in contrast with the extensive purging of key officials like Jang Song Thaek and Hyon Yong Chol, North Korea’s scientific world has received considerable preferential treatment and is heading the development of the North Korean-style ‘knowledge economy.’

Since coming to power, Kim has pursued a number of projects favoring scientists, including Unha Scientists Street, Wisong Scientists Residential District, and Mirae (‘Future’) Scientists Street. He has also provided private housing to teaching faculty at Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology.

As a result, more and more researchers are receiving significantly more than just their salaries. At the same time, North Korea is restructuring the R&D system, establishing research centers, extending on-site support for production, and creating for-profit companies.

The report also explained that the regime is continuing efforts pursued during the Kim Jong Il regime, such as the five-year technological development plan, the expansion of computer numerical control (CNC), and the use of the Internet. As it does so, it is pushing forward new endeavors like the establishment of the ‘Science and Technology Hall,’ cyber education, cyber healthcare, and the expansion of electronic payments. Thus, it is improving the level of informatization in North Korea.

“Like the science and technology-centered politics of Kim Jong Il, the Kim Jong Un regime has stressed science and technology in its pursuit of a knowledge economy because it recognizes the importance of this field in building a strong nation and solving the energy and food problems facing the country,” the report claimed.

In particular, around the 60th anniversary of North Korea’s National Academy of Science in December 2012, the regime embarked on an extensive reorganization of the academy. Major targets of the reorganization included the biotechnology and energy fields (critical fields to solving the food issue); high-tech fields like information technology (IT), nanotechnology, and automation; as well as the environmental sector and high-return sector.

In addition, in the beginning of 2015 North Korea dissolved its top software development agency, Korea Computer Center (KCC), leaving only the organization that develops the ‘Red Star’ computer operating system and reorganizing the whole agency as a profitmaking organization. Moreover, in the 4th Five-Year Plan (2013-2017) for scientific and technological development, solving the food and energy issues was emphasized more than in the past.

The report also mentioned the development of tablet PCs and the spread of electronic commercial transactions. In the summer of 2012, North Korea launched three tablet PC models called Samjiyon, Arirang, and Achim. Since then, more models like Woollim, Ryongheung, and Noul have been rolled out. Regarding electronic payments, the use of debit cards like the Narae card, which requires a 4-digit pin number and can be recharged at various shops and hotels, is spreading rapidly.

In regards to these changes, the report stated, “Kim Jong Un’s science and technology policies reflect North Korea’s industrial setting and private demand and are more rational as they correspond with international trends.” However, the report argued that support for key industries is shrinking, and their ability to survive on their own is insufficient. Given the difficulty of establishing a virtuous cycle of investment and profit calculation under the current policies, it concluded that the sustainability of these policies is low.

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North Korean-style venture company develops and sells PCs

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2015-6-24

A North Korean electronics company, where engineers in their 20s play a pivotal role, is mass-producing and selling locally made computers that are enjoying popularity due to their high quality and low price.

A correspondent in Pyongyang for the Choson Sinbo reported on June 16, 2015 that North Korea’s ‘Blue Sky Electronics’ is developing, mass-producing and selling various electronic products, including domestically produced computers under the ‘Blue Sky’ brand.

According to the Choson Sinbo, Blue Sky Electronics, which was established in October 2014, is locally developing, producing and selling these computers, which are manufactured at a factory on Tongil St. in Pyongyang.

It is reported that the researchers behind the computers are mostly in their 20s and graduates of Kim Il Sung University, Kim Chaek University of Technology, and the College of Natural Sciences. They are producing products such as ‘all-in-one’ computers, ‘portable’ computers, ‘desktop-type’ computers and ‘portable computers with detachable keyboards.’

The ‘all-in-one’ computers refer to computers that incorporate the desktop and monitor into one body, while ‘portable’ computers and ‘desktop-type’ computers refer to notebook computers and desktops, respectively. ‘Portable computers with detachable keyboards’ seem to refer to computers that double as both tablet computers and desktops.

The newspaper reported that among these, the ‘all-in-one’ computer and the portable computer with a detachable keyboard are especially popular, and orders for these computers are steadily coming in from a number of agencies and companies throughout the country.

The ‘all-in-one’ computer, which has a unique exterior, is said to consume little energy and can be charged using a household battery. Meanwhile, the portable computer with detachable keyboard, which can also be charged using a household battery, has reportedly enjoyed much popularity since it went on the market.

CEO Choi Jin Hyok (29 years old) explained succinctly the company’s business strategy: “Highest quality, lowest price, and product diversification.”

The newspaper added that the company is “developing products that are competitive internationally.” In addition, it was said that “[Blue Sky Electronics] guarantees the highest quality so that buyers can have confidence regarding its domestically made products, and everything in the company’s management is aimed at prioritizing the needs of the people in all aspects of purchasing and service.”

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‘Okryu’ North Korean online shopping website gaining popularity

Friday, April 10th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern studies (IFES)

According to the Japanese newspaper Choson Sinbo, a new online shopping mall in North Korea is enjoying popularity. “In Choson [North Korea] an e-commerce service system is being operated that handles food and all kinds of light industry goods,” the newspaper’s Pyongyang correspondent reported on April 2, 2015.

The newspaper explained that at the end of 2014, North Korea did a test-run of the system, and since the beginning of this year it has been in full operation. Since February of this year, they also started an e-commerce service that uses smart phones with communication functions.

Users access a computer network, and after joining the ‘Okryu’ e-commerce system, they can browse and purchase products.

In the Okryu e-commerce system, there are products of various name-brand commercial stores, restaurants and shops, including Changjon Haemaji Restaurant, Haedanghwa Restaurant, and Kumsong Foodstuff Factory.

On the homepage users are able to search for the products and when they decide to purchase a product they pay for it with an electronic card.

Currently, a variety of North Korean products are sold through Okryu, including various culinary dishes and food items, cosmetics and medical supplies, and footwear and bags. The Choson Sinbo said that “through Okryu [North Koreans] can even order naengmyon (cold buckwheat noodles) from the famous Okryukwan Restaurant.”

The newspaper went on to say, “This system has been a sensation among working-housewives, who can conveniently buy the products they need without going to the store […] There are also many users who choose products from Okryu’s homepage to send to friends or family during holidays and on birthdays.”

According to officials from the General People’s Service Bureau, “If the same types of products produced at several stores or factories are posted on the computer network, people will choose to purchase goods that are higher quality and cheaper in price. As a result, production units will begin competing in the areas of cost-saving and quality improvement.”

The newspaper added, “In the future the ‘Okryu’ homepage will not just contain the pictures of products, but it will also contain audio and video and become a fully multimedia website.” The e-commerce system is “also exploring a service that would make it possible for travelers to make reservations and search for information about accommodations at their respective destinations.”

Here is what KCNA had to say (2015-4-2):

Online Commercial Service Begins in DPRK
Pyongyang, April 2 (KCNA) — Online commercial service system, called “Okryu”, is run by the General Bureau of Public Service in the DPRK.

Citizens can make a search for their necessities like consumer goods and medicines even with mobile phone after joining in the system and ask for delivery.

Jong Sol Hwa, an official of the general bureau, told that the system helps consumers easily purchase their necessities at a lower cost.

Here is a translation of a longer April 2 article in the Choson Sinbo about the Okryu service:

E-commerce Service Okryu (옥류): Delivery also Possible
Search for Goods Online and Pay with Card.

North Korea has launched an e-commerce site mostly for food items or various light industry goods.

Order Okryu-gwan’s Noodle via Mobile Phones

People’s Service General Bureau(인민봉사총국) operates an e-commerce site called 《Okryu》. It started test operation at the end of 2014 and has run the service since the beginning of this year. 《Okryu》 is based on nationwide intranet and electronic payments systems and its operating principles are 《Put People’s Convenience First》 and 《Serve the Best Domestic Goods》.

It has also started since February the e-commerce service via mobile phones.

After customers access the internet and join the site 《Okryu》, they search for the products and order them.

People’s Service General Bureau(인민봉사총국) connects with nationwide commerce service units and make people purchase various goods without inconvenience at low prices.

On the website, popular products from well-known stores, restaurants, and commerce service units of each region including Changjeon Haemaji Restaurant(창전해맞이식당), Haedanghwa Service Complex(해당화관), and Keumsong Food Industry(금성식료공장).

Customers can search for and browse the goods they want on the website and pay when they order with electronic cards.

They can also ask corresponding commerce service units via phone call the features of their products before purchasing.

Diverse domestic goods including food and groceries, cosmetics and medicine, and shoes and bags are sold through 《Okryu》. Even cold-noodles from the Okryu Restaurant can be ordered.

There is also a delivery system ensuring the speed and the accuracy. Many different affiliated transportation companies under the People’s Service General Bureau(인민봉사총국) undertakes the delivery tasks.

The e-commerce service has gained popularity due to its convenience, especially for housewives who go to work as they can purchase without going directly to stores.

There are also consumers purchasing through 《Okryu》 to buy presents for their family and friends around holyday or birthday.

Opportunity for Low Price・Quality Competition

The persons from the People’s Service General Bureau emphasize the purpose of this service; to secure people’s convenience as much as possible through 《our products》, the best quality domestic goods.

According to their explanation, as many but the same types of products from different stores or factories are listed on the site, people find the products with lower price but higher quality. In consequence, there must be the competition for cost saving and quality improvement among production units.

“The e-commerce is only in its beginning stages, we will keep trying to collect people’s opinions actively and to secure their convenience, they said.

《Okryu》 is planning to include multimedia such as audio and video as well as the images of the products. Also, it will launch the service that tourists can search for accommodations of each region and make a reservation for them.

Additional Information:

1. Here is the original report in the Choson Sinbo.

2. Here is coverage in North Korea Tech.

3. Here is coverage in UPI.

4. Here is coverage in NK News.

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“Miraewon” Electronic Libraries to be constructed across North Korea

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-5-22

North Korea has been working to construct “Miraewon” – electronic libraries packed with cutting edge equipment and the latest information technology – in all counties and provinces across the country.

The Rodong Sinmun introduced the recently completed Jonchon County Miraewon in a May 12, 2014 article saying, “Many workers, students, and young people are already visiting the Miraewon, which has been magnificently renovated into an electronic library to meet the demands of the information-economy age.” The article praised the Miraewon, noting that “In just a short period of two months, the entire interior and exterior has completely changed; the library has been updated with dozens of the newest computers, audio-visual equipment, networks, lighting and various other amenities.”

Prior to this, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on May 9th, “There have been many new businesses sprouting up all over the nation’s various counties and provinces with the goal of constructing these modern Miraewon.” It has also been revealed that each center is equipped with “e-libraries, computer study rooms, rooms for scientific and technical knowledge, tele-education rooms, etc.” According to the KCNA, the Miraewon will act as a “base” for scientific technology and information, contributing directly to the nation’s economic development and the “cultural and emotional life of the people.”

Specifically, the KCNA emphasized the establishment of a “data service system” at the Miraewon, which “allows readers to access modern scientific and technological data and [the] latest achievements in various fields [at] any time.” It appears that the name “Miraewon” was created by the First Chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Jong Un.

This was first seen in a Korean Central Broadcasting Committee (KCBC) report from February 2014: “Marshal Kim Jong Un has extended his love and graciousness by bestowing the name ‘Changsong County Miraewon’ unto a newly renovated library (in North Phyongan Province).”

First Chairman Kim Jong Un stressed the importance of scientific technology in his New Year’s Address, saying that it is the “impetus that drives the construction of a great nation.” He also emphasized the need for all executives and workers alike to strive to master modern scientific technology, calling on the nation to have a “science and technology-focused spirit” and setting the goal for all citizens to become technologically capable.

Meanwhile, North Korea is also concentrating efforts on developing energy-saving technology which will ultimately lead to the end of the nation’s chronic energy shortage. North Korean state media emphasized the need to address the energy problem, saying, “The most important thing in creating a great Socialist nation is the urgent demand of electricity and energy. In a Socialist economy, saving ten percent more energy would have a much larger effect than increasing production by ten percent, and would also drastically cut costs.”

In other articles, the Rodong Sinmun introduced several examples of newly developed energy-saving technology in detail. Such technology includes the “High Performance Far-Infrared Radiator (FIR),” which reduces energy consumption in heating, and the “High Frequency Impulse Electroseparator,” which increases the efficiency of the electricity used in extracting minerals. Furthermore, the Rodong Sinmun introduced “Distributed Power Systems,” which focuses on the construction of several smaller power plants compared to having just a few large-scale plants. According to the Rodong Sinmun, this method is not only more efficient, but more eco-friendly as well.

First Chairman of the National Defense Commission Kim Jong Un spoke in his 2014 New Year’s Address, “All members of society must strive to save each watt of electricity, each gram of coal, and each drop of water,” emphasizing North Korea’s devotion to reducing consumption of energy and natural resources. This movement to develop energy saving technology and increase energy efficiency is related to the national pursuit of economic “self-rehabilitation” in the midst of sanctions imposed by the international community.

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The “Samjiyon”: North Korea’s tablet computer

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Two good reviews of the tablet here:

1. Martyn Williams, North Korea Tech (2013-8-1)

2. Ruediger Frank, 38 North (2013-10-22)

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North Korea accelerating modernization of postal and communication sectors

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-9-27

North Korea is promoting the development of its postal and communication sectors.

North Korea recently held the “National Communications Workers’ Rally” on September 16, 2013. The First Chairman of the National Defence Commission Kim Jong Un sent a letter addressed to the participants titled “Time for a New Shift in the Communications Industry.”

At the event, Deputy Premier Jon Sung Hun delivered a speech emphasizing that “(communications sector officials) must work with the mission and duty to raise the national communications business up to the state-of-the-art level.”

The dedication of technicians working at the mobile communication base station, research of scientists and technicians at the communications sector, and modernization of information and communications in Pyongyang were acclaimed for achievements.

In the North, letters and parcel delivery as well as land-based and mobile phones, and intranets are considered a part of the communications sector. The Ministry of Communications under the Cabinet oversees this entire industry.

During his life, former leader Kim Jong Il also showed great interest in the communications sector. At the national rally for communications workers on August 25, 1993, Kim sent a letter encouraging the participants: “Let’s push forward toward modernization of the communications sector.” In North Korea, this text is regarded as the bible of the communications industry.

North Korea has been holding the National Communications Workers’ Rally once every ten years, with the last event held in October 2003 at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Korean Workers’ Party, devoted the entirety of page four to introducing the achievements of the International Satellite Communication Bureau and the fiber-optic cable factories. It covered extensively the successes of the postal and communications industries.

The newspaper stated, “The workers and technicians of the communication sector successfully finished the fiber optic cable construction in the provincial, city, and district levels in a short period.” The news also boasted that “They realized the high-speed and large-capacity of communications based on state-of-the-art technology and high-tech facilities.”

In addition, Rodong Sinmun reported the advancement of the speed and accuracy of communications, high-speed data network and exchange capacity, making positive contribution in distance learning and remote medical system.

The news also acclaimed, “The fiber-optic cable communication and communication facilities and operation has reached the level of modernization,” and “Most of all, the high-tech mobile services is contributing greatly to ensuring the convenience of people’s daily lives.”

Recently, North Korean mobile communications has made great progress. Reportedly, North Korea has over 200 million subscribers (as of April 2013). About 1 in 12 North Koreans have mobile phones. The younger generation is also reported to be reading mobile news, multimedia message (MMS), and sending and receiving video calls via 3G.

Mobile phones in North Korea are spreading rapidly and mobile games are also growing in popularity.

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Ruediger Frank on the DPRK economy

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Ruediger Frank writes in the East Asia Forum:

After decades of being divided into a population of a small and mostly invisible elite and everyone else, a middle class of about 2 million people is on the rise. These are the people who have mobile phones, use taxis and show a remarkable diversity in clothing and accessories. The local 7-inch tablet computer, ‘Samjiyŏn’, sells for US$180 and comes with the Android operating system and a number of apps such as a dictionary, changgi (Korean chess), and a collection of the works of the two deceased former leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

The quality of life in the capital differs significantly from the rest of the country. Some observers believe this will increase discontent; but it also smartly diverts attention away from the shiny examples of foreign metropolises spread on pirated DVDs and USB sticks, and offers the population a domestic Xanadu. The key question for social stability is thus not what peasants in the countryside dream about, but what middle-class Pyongyangites aspire to. Meanwhile, the number of solar panels and small windmills is rising, which is the countryside’s solution to having less privileged access to power.

Despite all the changes, many of the old problems remain unsolved. Prices rise, speculation is rampant and frustration grows in sync with corruption and an ever-more obvious gap between the poor and the new middle class. It would be unrealistic to imply that Kim Jong-un even theoretically had the chance to improve the lives of the majority of his people significantly within a year of taking over. But he has not been idle. Inequality in North Korea is a sign of deepening change. A growing income and welfare gap between individuals indicates that the economy is on the move away from socialist egalitarianism towards capitalist diversity.

Read the full report here:
North Korea’s rolling economic reforms
Ruediger Frank
East Asia Forum
2013-9-24

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