North Korea, like the rest of the world, is getting hooked on tablet computers. In the last year, state media has highlighted three different tablet computers that are now, according to the reports, available in the country.
The latest of these, the Samjiyon (삼지연), is also on sale to foreigners and one of the tablets was recently purchased by a tech-savvy tourist. The tourist, Michael, doesn’t want to use his surname, but I’ve spoken extensively with him via e-mail, phone and Skype video chat about the tablet and how it performs.
The Samjiyon first appeared to the world at the 8th Pyongyang Autumn International Trade Fair in September 2012. Supposedly developed by the Korea Computer Center (조선콤퓨터쎈터), the tablet is the first from the country to support reception of TV broadcasts.
“The tablet was just sitting there”
“We had just finished lunch at a hotpot restaurant in Pyongyang and had time to kill while some of us smoked, etc,” said Michael. “The restaurant has a gift shop on the ground floor which mostly sold cheap manufactured stuff that wasn’t overtly for tourists but was likely sold almost exclusively to them.”
“The tablet was just sitting there next to some trinkets inside of the glass case in front at the register. At first, I just asked to take a couple of photos of the box, excited to be able to add just a bit more info to the small amount out there in the world. I asked if it was for sale as more of a joke than anything and I was surprised to have the woman behind the counter tell me it was for sale for just US$200. That simple.”
With that, it was purchased. Taking it out of the country proved no problem, he said.
“When I filled out my customs form at the Pyongyang airport, I even declared that I had an electronic device with me that I didn’t have when I arrived but no attention was paid whatsoever.”
“The Samjiyon is surprisingly impressive”
So, how does the tablet stack up against the many Android tablets available in developed markets like the U.S.? Our tech-savvy tourist was well placed to make that distinction because of a job that affords regular access to many high-end Android tablets, like the Galaxy Tab, Galaxy Nexus tabs and Amazon Kindle.
“I can honestly say that the Samjiyon is surprisingly impressive. In terms of responsiveness and speed, it can almost compete against the leading tablets out there. Tapping and launching apps feels fairly fluid, instantiating the camera is as fast as the world’s leading tablets, and there is no noticeable lag when playing games I’m familiar with, like Angry Birds.”
If you believe the specs on the Samjiyon’s box, it’s got an 1.2GHz processor (which is more than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7″‘s 1.0GHz processor) and 1GB of RAM (the same as the Samsung).
All of the typical Android apps are present on the tablet, but don’t look for any Google software. That’s because the basic version of Android, which is available at no cost to any company that wants to use it, doesn’t include Google apps like Gmail, YouTube and Navigation. To get the Google apps, hardware developers need to sign an agreement with Google. That wasn’t done for the Samjiyon and for good reason: with no Internet access, the Google apps are pretty much useless anyway.
North Koreans might not have Internet access, but they do have the ability to connect to a nationwide internal intranet. A web browser in the Samjiyon comes equipped for the task. It’s programmed to default to a home page at a numeric IP address, 10.76.1.11. The address sits within a private address block, specifically designed for use on internal networks and not globally.
There are several pre-programmed bookmarks.
- Rodong Sinmun (www.rodong.ref.kp)
- Korean Central News Agency (www.kcn.inf.kp)
- Korean Central Television (www.krt.rep.kp)
- Grand People’s Study House (www.gpsh.edu.kp)
These are linking to sites on the domestic intranet. In the case of the Rodong and KCNA sites, which also have sites on the global Internet, the URLs are different.
However, despite the Web browser, Michael says there doesn’t appear to be any way to connect the WiFi. Some of the settings in the tablet’s configuration files refer to a hardware WiFi adapter, so it appears to have the ability to connect built inside it.
It’s possible the configuration entries are erroneous, that WiFi exists in hardware but has been disabled in software, or that it’s hard-coded to work on a certain network and cannot be changed like conventional tablets.
North Korean Apps
Several of the apps on the Samjiyon appear to be domestically made. Perhaps the most interesting of these is a version of Adobe’s PDF reader that’s been repackaged by the Korea Computer Center. It’s not immediately clear what changes if any were made, but the name of the PDF reader software package contains a clear reference to the Korea Computer Center. The names of other foreign-souced software packages haven’t been changed, so it apparently signifies some level of repackaging or modification.
There’s a number of games on the Samjiyon, and some are from international developers.
Among them, a Korean-language version of Angry Birds Rio. It’s interesting to think that this most addictive of Android games have reached as far as Pyongyang. How it got there is a mystery. Rovio, the Finnish maker of the game, hasn’t responded to several requests for comment.
And, if you hadn’t figured it out from Dennis Rodman’s January trip to Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un is a big basketball fan. So it’s interesting to see the Basketball Shot game as one of the apps on the Samjiyon.
Here’s the games found on the tablet:
- Angry Birds Rio (Rovio, Finland)
- Basketball Shot (Droidhen Games)
- Field Runners (Subatomic, U.S.)
- Fishing Joy (Punch Box, China)
- Tank Recon 3D (Lone Dwarf Games)
- Air Control (Four Pixels Games)
- Racing Moto (Droidhen Games)
A promotional video for the Samjiyon highlights its usefulness as a tool for students. That’s underlined by the inclusion of several educational and reference software apps.
On the left side of the top shelf are elementary school books: music, computers, mathematics and Kim Il Sung’s childhood. On the right side are middle school books covering language and the arts. The bottom shelf has more middle school books on the left concerning English, biology and chemistry. The right side has reference books.
The main specifications of the tablet are listed on the box:
- 1.2GHz CPU
- 1GB DDR3 memory
- 8GB or 16GB internal storage
- 7-inch screen with 1,024 by 768 pixel resolution
- 2 megapixel camera
- 187 by 124 by 10 millimeters
- 250 grams
Once switched on, the settings screen gives away a little more detail:
- Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
- Kernel 3.0.13
- Baseband A70MTK_D1_default_V1.0.0
- Build number 20130311.154649
The build number is the date and time when the system software image loaded on the tablet was finalized: March 11, 2013 at 3:46pm.
The localization settings are set to Pyongyang and North Korea:
“The device’s form factor leaves some things to be desired, as the power and volume buttons protrude with some rough edges and trying to open the SD card slot is a bit awkward. Perhaps the biggest misstep in the hardware is the TV antenna and the way that one’s fingernails play a critical role in being able to extract it. Reminds me of pulling a stylus out of a Palm Pilot but even more frustrating,” said Michael.
“The speaker is nice and loud and clear although the headphones jack has some serious issues, requiring quite a bit of jiggling to get both channels coming in without interruption. The screen is also bright but only when viewed straight on. Otherwise, it’s fairly dim. That said, 1024 by 768 pixel resolution is on par with Samsung’s best 7-inch tablet and the iPad Mini.”
“The tablet is running Android 4.0.4 and aside from no obvious way to enable WiFi (although investigation suggests that it supports it), the tablet really would stack up against 80 percent of the tablets sold in the U.S.”
The tablet comes with a built-in analog TV tuner. North Korea uses the European PAL color system and the Russian channel system.
Hitting the TV button on the display starts the TV function and allows the user to choose between four preset channels: VHF channels 5 and 12 and UHF channels 25 and 31.
According to a list of North Korea’s TV transmitters in the most recent edition of the World Radio TV Handbook, channel 5 is used by Mansudae TV in Pyongyang and channel 12 by Korea Central Television.
The same book says Pyongyang’s other TV station, Ryongnamsan TV (former Korea Educational TV), uses channel 9 and lists no UHF channels at all for any North Korean TV outlet. Given the difficulty in getting accurate information from North Korea, it could be that the list is based on old information or incorrect. It could also be the case that UHF broadcasting is now in use in Pyongyang.
Manual tuning isn’t possible. This is inline with North Korea’s policy of fixed tuners on radios and TVs so people cannot listen to foreign broadcasts, but also means the TV function is of little use outside of Pyongyang because KCTV uses other channels in different parts of the country. Perhaps that’s no so much of a problem given the $200 price tag and the lower incomes in the provinces.
High-quality recordings of Voice of Korea programs are now available on-demand via the London-based World Radio Network.
Voice of Korea is North Korea’s international radio broadcaster.
WRN, which rebroadcasts international radio stations, previously experimented with offering Voice of Korea shortwave programs, but the quality of the reception was poor and the service ended a few weeks ago with no explanation.
Now it’s back and the quality is better than ever.
WRN is carrying the 57 minute daily broadcast of Voice of Korea in English, Arabic, Chinese, French and Russian. Each program includes the daily news, features on life in North Korea, the exploits of the Kim family and the Juche philosophy, and music.
The broadcasts are sourced from the Voice of Korea’s satellite channel, which is alongside the Korean Central Television broadcast on the Thaicom 5 satellite.
WRN notes the service isn’t something it’s been contracted to provide by the North Korean government.
The following content is sourced from the public domain and is provided purely as a public service. It does not form part of our aggregated radio networks and we have no contractual or financial relationship with the content producer. — WRN website, July 22, 2013.
It’s the first time the broadcast has been available regularly online.
Voice of Korea has a public-facing website, but it offers only a few recordings of news on demand. The full program, including music, isn’t provided on the Voice of Korea site.
(Thanks to Yvan Petrov for the tip.)
Numerous broadcasts of North Korea’s external radio service and some of the country’s jamming of foreign radio stations has been off air in the last few days, according to several reports.
Voice of Korea, which broadcasts in several languages on shortwave to audiences outside of the country, missed many of its scheduled transmissions on July 20 and July 21.
On a typical day the station uses as many as eight transmitters simultaneously to beam its programming around the world, but on July 20 a radio monitor in Bulgaria noted only had two on the air at any one time. A day later, on July 21, the station had between two and seven transmitters on air simultaneously depending on the time.
Voice of Korea has gone through periods in the last few years when it regularly missed some transmissions. The radio station never acknowledged any problems leaving the cause unknown. Speculation has centered around engineering work for the installation of new transmitters or power supply problems.
Also on July 20, radio monitors in the U.S. noted the broadcast of South Korea’s KBS Hanminjok Bangsong on 6015kHz shortwave could be clearly heard without jamming.
North Korea typically jams this station by broadcasting noise over the top of its signal so listeners in the DPRK cannot hear the programs. (You can read more about North Korean radio jamming in an article I wrote for NK News.)
A day later, monitors also noted some of the transmissions of Echo of Hope and Voice of the People, both South Korean government broadcasts aimed at North Korea, were also free of jamming.
Monitoring will continue of the next few days.
The South Korean government says it suspects hackers in North Korea were behind a series of cyber attacks last month.
The attacks took place on June 25, the anniversary of the beginning of the Korean war, and continued for several days. When they began, several South Korean government and private-run websites were defaced or taken offline.
The main evidence behind the South’s accusations was the discovery of an IP address linked to North Korea and similarities in software code between the June 25 attack and previous attacks, the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, said Tuesday.
IP addresses are unique numeric identifiers assigned to every device on the Internet that underpin routing of traffic on the network. All known North Korean IP addresses — there are 1,280 of them — are controlled by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications or Star, an affiliated Internet service provider.
Computer security company Fortinet analyzed the June 25 attack and said many of the websites that were taken offline were not directly attacked. Instead, hackers attacked servers that translate human-memorable Internet addresses, like www.example.com, into numeric IP addresses, like 10.234.12.76.
The servers, called DNS or domain name system servers, are queried everytime a human-memorable address is typed into a browser, added to an email or followed from a link. Because the numeric IP address is what’s actually used to send, route and receive data, computers need to know that before anything can happen.
Therefore, if the DNS server isn’t available, it’s impossible to connect to the target website, even if the target website is available.
The attacks on South Korean sites coincided with a previously announced attack on North Korean-related websites by members of the international hacking collective Anonymous. The group launched a series of denial of service attacks that made it difficult to access the sites for several days. Leaders of the Anonymous attacks denied on Twitter any link to the actions against South Korean websites.
One of the attacks targeted the website of the South Korean president and resulted in the site being offline for most of the day.
North Korea’s attempts to block the flow of information from the outside world to its people are well know and well documented, but much less known is South Korea’s attempts to keep its citizens from having unrestricted access to media from North Korea.
The country’s national Internet firewall makes it fairly easy to keep curious South Korean eyes away from sites like the Korean Central News Agency and Rodong Sinmun, but what about radio waves that travel freely across the border?
It turns out the South Korean government doesn’t want its people listening to those either. A network of jamming transmitters blocks reception of North Korean radio broadcasts in Seoul and the surrounding areas, but it’s not quite as complete as the Internet blockade.
In late May I traveled to Seoul to document the current state of South Korea’s radio jamming and discovered it’s enough to stop casual listeners from tuning into the news, music and propaganda that comes from Pyongyang each day, but it’s a low barrier.
There’s a surprisingly easy way to get around the jamming and listen to North Korea’s two major radio networks: the Korean Central Broadcasting Station and Pyongyang Broadcasting Station, even in downtown Seoul. A little travel also gave me a chance to hear a couple of FM radio stations: Pyongyang FM Broadcasting Station and Echo of Unification.
The findings are split across a couple of articles on NK News, which should be accessible to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. You can also find audio recordings of the radio stations and the jamming.
Two ham radio operators hoping to get permission to set up a temporary amateur radio station in North Korea have returned from a trip to the country and have plans to visit again.
Paul Ewing (N6PSE) and David Flack (AH6HY) of the “Intrepid DX” group wrote that they will refine their proposal and “continue to communicate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.”
The two want permission to lead two groups of twelve people each on a two week expedition to the DPRK. While inside the country, they plan to operate an amateur radio station and make contacts with ham operators around the world.
Getting government permission for the plan is, of course, essential.
During their June trip, the two entered the DPRK in Namyang, near Tumen, and traveled as far south as Panmunjon, before leaving the country at Wonjong, near Rajin.
“The purpose of the visit was to meet with DPRK Government Representatives in Pyongyang and to survey and assess various potential Dxpedition venues throughout the country. Particular attention was paid to terrain and the availability of reliable power,” they wrote on the “P5 Project” blog.
The project is named for North Korea’s radio callsign prefix “P5.” Because the country has no licensed amateur operators, contacting a P5 radio station is extremely rare. If the group manage to get permission of their plan, they should receive a temporary P5 call sign and there will likely be strong demand to communicate with the station from overseas ham operators.
“Our goals are to provide a much needed P5 contact to the entire amateur radio community world-wide,” they wrote.
The two are now planning a second visit and, in what could be a savvy political move, have added a representative of the Chinese amateur radio community to their group: Fan Bin (BA1RB).
(For background on the project and previous attempts to operate ham radio stations from North Korea, see “Ham radio operators hope to put North Korea on the air” from June 11.)
A hacking group called “DarkSeoul” was behind some of this week’s attacks on South Korean websites, according to researchers at computer security company Symantec.
The company says the group was responsible for denial of service attacks on South Korean government websites and can be directly linked to similar actions in the past.
“We can now attribute multiple previous high-profile attacks to the DarkSeoul gang over the last 4 years against South Korea, in addition to yesterday’s attack,”Symantec said on its Security Response blog. “These attacks include the devastating Jokra attacks in March 2013 that wiped numerous computer hard drives at South Korean banks and television broadcasters, as well as the attacks on South Korean financial companies in May 2013.”
The same hacking group was behind the attacks that targeted U.S. and South Korean websites on the July 4 weekend in 2009, according to Symantec.
The attacks by DarkSeoul have been technically sophisticated on some occasions. But Symantec said it’s not possible to attribute the acts to those of a nation state, as the South Korean media has fingered North Korean state hackers in many of these cases, or simply a highly skilled group of agitators.
Nevertheless, the attacks are likely to continue, the company said.
“Symantec expects the DarkSeoul attacks to continue and, regardless of whether the gang is working on behalf of North Korea or not, the attacks are both politically motivated and have the necessary financial support to continue acts of cybersabotage on organizations in South Korea. Cybersabotage attacks on a national scale have been rare — Stuxnet and Shamoon (W32.Disttrack) are the other two main examples. However, the DarkSeoul gang is almost unique in its ability to carry out such high-profile and damaging attacks over several years.”
Tuesday’s series of denial of service attacks on major North Korean websites caused delays and frustration for legitimate users but doesn’t appear to have been as large or successful as the first round of attacks in late March and early April this year.
Analysis by NorthKoreaTech.org of data related to the attacks shows the so-called “OpNorthKorea” mission was most successful during its first few hours and then appeared to slowly tail off.
Denial of service attacks involve firing off requests for pages to websites. If enough requests can be sent, the site ends up overloaded and no one gets anything. Success of such an attack requires no hacking of the site itself, just enough people running attack software programs to overload the sites.
The remnants of the attack remain in slow load times for some sites, indicating some hackers are probably still trying targeting North Korean web servers but many have stopped.
Overall, the severity is much reduced from the last round, when global attention was focused on North Korean as it issued daily threats against South Korean and the United States.
The Attack Begins
There was some confusion over the precise starting time of the attack due to an error converting between local time and UTC/GMT.
#OpNorthKorea – 6/25 GMT 03 AM
12AM in Korean time.
03:00 UTC/GMT is actually 12pm local time, not midnight.
The targets of the attack were listed in an online file that was based on The North Korean Website List that resides on this site.
— Anonymous (@Anonsj) June 25, 2013
The start of the attacks appear to have triggered a couple of outage on the North Korean Internet, as can be seen in this graphic from Internet monitoring company Renesys. The first occurred at 3am local time and the second at just before 6am local time.
Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) and Rodong Sinmun in the DPRK, Choson Sinbo in Japan, the China-based Uriminzokkiri and the European-based Korea-DPR website of the Korea Friendship Assocation were among the main targets of the attacks.
But how successful were they?
Twitter began filling with “Tango Down” messages — signifying a website has been taken down — soon after the attacks began.
— Anonymous (@Anonsj) June 25, 2013
Were the sites really down, or just down for some users?
Frank Feinstein, who runs the KCNA Watch service, set up a page to track the success of attempts to connect to a host of North Korean related sites.
“While I don’t dispute the attacks have been successful, Anonymous have claimed many more sites to be ‘completely offline’ when they aren’t,” he said in comments to North Korea Tech. “I’m not sure how thorough they are with their checks but my data is often different from theirs.”
Feinstein runs several thousand proxy servers to repeatedly hit the KCNA website and grab the latest stories for his site. He used those to survey KCNA and a handful of other websites.
“Interestingly kcna.kp is not behaving very differently from the past weeks access logs. It seems to be standing up better than a lot of others,” he said. “From the selected North Korean sites I monitored, chosonsinbo.com was ‘down’ for a period of two hours, uriminzokkiri and ryugyongclip were also taken out.”
Uriminzokkiri was the target of a hack in April that resulted in details on the site’s 15,000 users being published on the Internet.
“kcna.kp was ‘totally unresponsive’ for less than 0.1 percent of the 24-hour period we have been monitoring it, which is within the margin of error,” he said. “Other sites have responded more strongly.”
Feinstein’s data, shown below, indicates an average response rate of around 40 percent during much of the attack period. At some points it dipped below 10 percent for the sites being monitored.
For just the KCNA website, Feinstein’s monitoring showed a response rate of just 6 percent over the last 24 hours for his 1,214 attempts to grab content. If those numbers are representative of the average Internet user, that means many didn’t manage to connect to KCNA. To them, the site would have appeared down.
North Korea’s Internet Connection
Ever since the DPRK first opened its connection to the Internet in 2010, the servers in Pyongyang have maintained their link with the rest of the world via China Unicom. About a year after it first connection, the DPRK added a backup route via satellite and things stayed the same until a couple of months ago.
Then, a third connection appeared via China Unicom Hong Kong. It appeared shortly after the April round of hacking attacks and the easy assumption was that it’s meant to help mitigate the attacks by providing another way for its servers to connect with users around the world.
Then, a couple of weeks before the long-planned June 25 attacks, it disappeared.
There’s no way of knowing why it appeared, just as there is no way of knowing why it was first added, but the original assumptions at least appear to be incorrect.
Here again is a graph from Renesys showing North Korea’s connection to the global Internet. The Intelsat connection (grey) disappeared around March this year. The China Unicom HK connection is shown in green.