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The US Has Officially Blacklisted North Korea’s Tech And Defense Contractor

The US government just forbid any American citizen and company from dealing with North Korea’s unofficial tech department, but this will probably not change anything about North Korea’s internet.

by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai
Jun 2 2017, 12:00pm

Image: Kyodo via AP Images

On Thursday, the US government blacklisted a bunch of people and organizations suspected of supporting North Korea's weapons program.

Among the entities hit, the US Treasury Department also sanctioned the Korean Computer Center, a North Korean government state-sponsored defense and tech contractor. Also known as the KCC, the company administers the regime's internet domain (.kp), and maintains the country's own sanctioned—and insecure and surveillance-friendly—operating system for PCs and tablets, Red Star OS. Interestingly, some of KCC's employees are on LinkedIn, such as someone called Kim DongMyong or Choe KukChol, who's apparently worked at the KCC's outpost in India for 12 years.

Read More: I Tried to Find a Tinder Date in North Korea

It's unclear why the US government decided to hit this organization with sanctions at this point. A spokesperson for the US Treasury declined to elaborate beyond what's in their press release, which is not a lot.

"The KCC generates money for the North Korean regime through software development and programming, including North Korea's 'Red Star' operating system," the release states. "As of 2014, KCC allegedly earned foreign currency for the UN-and U.S.-designated Munitions Industry Department, which is responsible for overseeing North Korea's ballistic missiles."

For Collin Anderson, an independent researcher who studies internet censorship and surveillance as well as sanctions and export controls, said that this is unlikely to change "a whole lot."

"There were already sanctions against North Korea that would restrict business with KCC," Anderson told Motherboard in an online chat.

"Since STE in Syria is similarly sanctioned, and their Internet didn't collapse, not sure anyone will be affected in weird ways."

Moreover, the US Treasury in the past blacklisted similar institution in other countries, such as Syria Telecom. And as Anderson noted, that had "little impact."

"Since STE in Syria is similarly sanctioned, and their Internet didn't collapse, not sure anyone will be affected in weird ways," he told me.

In other words, life on the North Korean internet and the country's tech scene will probably go on as before. That is, some North Koreans will still be able to visit the handful of sites available to them, play around with the government-sanctioned tablet, or the Linux-based and totally hackable operating system. And maybe one day we'll get another Pyongyang-based Facebook competitor.

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NORTH KOREA
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Korea Computer Center
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