Kim Jong Un visited on Saturday the Pyongyang factory where North Korean cell phones are supposedly made, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
Photos of the visit, released by KCNA, show Kim touring the May 11 Factory and talking to officials. There’s also a picture of what’s said to be the latest cell phone on the North Korean market, an Android phone called “Arirang.” (See right, click for larger image.)
The visit came two years and two weeks since Kim Jong Un last visited the factory. That time he accompanied his father, Kim Jong Il, on a tour of a flat-screen LCD TV assembly line. At the time I noted the production line shown in TV coverage of the visit didn’t look much like those in a typical electronics factory and the same is true this time around.
Workers are shown with finished products, inspecting them and testing them but no actual manufacturing is shown.
Despite KCNA’s reporting that the handsets are made at the factory, they are probably made to order by a Chinese manufacturer and shipped to the May 11 Factory where they are inspected before going on sale.
That will be all but confirmed if the handset shown in the photo can be identified.
Here’s what KCNA said about the visit:
He learned in detail about the performance, quality and packing of “Arirang” hand phone being made at this factory.
He highly appreciated the creative ingenuity and patriotic enthusiasm with which the officials and employees of the factory laid a solid foundation for mass-producing hand phones by building a new modern hand phone production process.
He praised them for developing an application program in Korean style which provides the best convenience to the users while strictly guaranteeing security.
After learning about the performance of a touch hand phone, he said that a hand phone is convenient for its user when that part of the phone is sensitive.
He noted that these hand phones will be very convenient for their users as their camera function has high pixels.
After being told that “Arirang” hand phones which the factory started producing a few days ago are high in demand among people, he said he was also pleased as they are liked by people.
Looking at the trademark “Arirang” inscribed on the hand phone, he noted that mass-production of goods with DPRK trademark can instill national pride and self-respect into the Korean people.
How nice to see hand phones being successfully produced with indigenous technology, he said, adding it is of educational significance in making people love Korean things.
He said that only when the quality of products is improved while boosting their production, people will like home-made things and they will be in high demand. — KCNA, August 11, 2013.
A report on the visit was carried by Korean Central Television, but it didn’t show any video or still images from the trip.
Analysis of the meeting by Daily NK noted the visit is the first time that Kim has “offered the Kim family stamp of approval to the widespread production, and by extension ownership, of cell phones.”
That’s true, although Kim Jong Il’s previous meetings with Naguib Sawiris, chairman of network operator Orascom Telecom, received widespread coverage in state media as did the switching on of the cell phone network.
Daily NK also said it was noteworthy that “Kim posited the idea of cellphone production as a patriotic activity.”
Citing a top secret U.S. government document leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, North Korea’s Minju Joson newspaper has attacked America’s cyber warfare policy calling it an “open threat to mankind” and a “declaration of the cyber war.”
The Presidential Policy Directive 20, an October 2012 paper that outlined U.S. cyber operations policy for those in the highest officials in the U.S. government, called for a list of potential targets for possible U.S. cyber attacks under the umbrella of “Offensive Cyber Effects Operations.”
That’s likely worried North Korea, which probably has a better chance than many other nations of making such a list.
“This means that the U.S. is ready to mount a fierce cyber attack on anyone going against the grain with it! any moment,” the newspaper said according to a report of the commentary that was carried on the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Both KCNA and the Minju Joson are state-controlled, like all media in North Korea.
The cyber attack in Internet network may bring irrevocable financial and material damage to the opponent side in a moment.
This is nothing but an open threat to mankind and the declaration of the cyber war.
The U.S. move can never be justified as it is aimed to make the internet network, which should contribute to civilization and development of mankind, a tool for implementing its strategy for world domination.
The U.S. has to stop at once the anachronistic acts stemming the advance of mankind to peace, prosperity and development. — Minji Joson via KCNA, August 10, 2013.
North Korea itself has been widely reported to be building up its own cyber attack capability and has been blamed for several attacks on South Korean computer networks and companies.
Most recently, South Korean investigators said they found evidence of North Korean involvement in a June 25 cyberattack that hit several South Korean government and private-run websites. Seoul’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning said it had found an IP address linked to North Korea while analyzing the attacks.
One of the attacks targeted the website of the South Korean president and resulted in the site being offline for most of the day.
One of the most interesting questions surrounding North Korea’s Samjiyon tablet is its source. State media reports not withstanding, the tablet is almost certainly not made in North Korea — the country just doesn’t have the electronics manufacturing capability to design products like tablet computers from the components up.
And anyway, why bother? Companies in Taiwan and China offer many finished tablet designs that are widely used, even by well-known western brand names, so why go through the work and expense of designing something from scratch?
North Korea’s IT expertise is in software and that’s where the Samjiyon is very North Korean. There are several domestically-developed software apps and packages, education materials for local kids and other enhancements.
The hardware however isn’t different at all from Android tablets on sale in other countries, with the sole exception of a analog TV tuner for local broadcasts.
So, where does it come from?
A little detective work, digging through configuration files buried within the Samjiyon and some Internet sleuthing has revealed the likely source.
In the Samjiyon’s Android system files is the first clue:
This identifies the tablet as a Yecon 75 and the manufacturer as Alps. Yecon is a Hong Kong based manufacturer of motherboards for tablet computers.
Established in 2003, Shenzhen Yecon Industry Co., Ltd. specializes in tablet PC, GPS equipments, communication devices and other intelligent electronics products. The strategic target for Yecon is to create greatest value for business partners and build Yecon to become a powerful and influential brand and front-runner in domestic intelligent electronics market. After undaunted efforts for more than eight years, Yecon boasts and grows continuously in company scale, sales performance, management ability and comprehensive strengthen as well. — Yecon company website
Alps — not to be confused with the Japanese electronics component maker — appears to be a tablet maker. I’ve found a few references to Alps MID (mobile Internet device) tablets that look similar to the Samjiyon, but nothing perfectly aligns yet.
Yecon’s website shows images for several tablet circuit boards, which are premade for packaging with a screen and other components. One in particular stands out, the MG705.
Take a look at the photo below. The right hand side of the board, as seen in this photo, would be the top of the tablet. There’s a couple of SIM card slots and a memory card slot. Along the lower side of the board, which would be the right hand side in the tablet, are more connectors, including an HDMI connector in the center.
Now take a look at the inside of the Samjiyon (click image for larger version).
Looking closer will reveal the two boards are almost identical. There are a few minor differences, and that’s probably because they are slightly different versions of the same design. You’ll also notice some of the capabilities of the board, such as the dual SIM card slots shown as feature 4, are not present on the Samjiyon board. The HDMI video socket, between features 1 and 2 on the Yecon board has also not been installed on the Samjiyon.
The Yecon board isn’t exclusive to the Samjiyon and so it’s possible to see very similar tablets on sale from other companies.
For example, at this year’s Computex IT show in Taipei local tablet maker Clevo was demonstrating a 7-inch Android tablet with built-in digital TV reception that looks very similar to the Samjiyon. A give away is the position of the switches, slots and sockets on the case. Clevo didn’t reply to several requests for details on the tablet, so I haven’t been able to confirm it’s based on the Yecon board, but it looks very similar.
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.