NORTH Korean dissidents are reportedly hacking their way around the dictatorship’s media blockade.
“Jailbreaking” is the practice of altering a device’s capabilities or removing restrictions.
Experts sat down with two North Korean defectors who shared insights about the state of internet freedom and jailbreaking in the country.
Both defectors described jailbreaking their own devices as well as devices belonging to friends – and revealed that jailbreaking is a service covertly offered to other North Koreans for varying reasons.
FreedomHouse, a non-profit that analyzes overall and digital freedom, gave North Korea a score of three out of 100 – a dismal score representing how little agency the North Korean people have in their media consumption habits.
“North Korean people are creating solutions and workarounds so that they can learn things that the North Korean government doesn’t want them to learn, sharing things the government considers subversive, and ultimately so they can create a challenge to the regime,” an expert told Wired.
State-approved phones are been programmed to delete any content downloaded without a cyber signature from the state.
The hackers undercut the security measures on their devices by removing the signature layer from the phone’s programming.
Wired reported that the phones also take and log screenshots at random, forcing users into a constant state of paranoia.
The stakes in North Korea are extremely high – the state has executed citizens for infractions as minor as watching K-pop videos.
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Few North Koreans are in tune with modern appliances.
“Then there’s this other class of folks who have some amount of computer science literacy,” an expert on tech in North Korea told Wired.
One of the defectors said they had attended an elite technical school and connected their phone to a computer to install jailbreaking software they had smuggled.
“They’re basically mapping out exactly how the thing works in practice and finding pretty clever workarounds.”
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The tightly monitored North Korean internet is called Kwangmyong – which translates to “bright star” in Korean.
Vox reported that many of the elites in North Korea are above restrictions, and access the internet to stay in step with current affairs outside the authoritarian state.