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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Benjamin Summer

North Koreans to face labour camps for removing surveillance tools from phones

Kim Jong-un has threatened three weeks in a labour camp and eye-watering fines for North Korean citizens who hack their state-approved smartphones.

The leader announced new laws after a new hack emerged allowing people remove state surveillance tools from Pyongyang’s copycat “iPhone” and grant access to websites from the outside world.

The phones currently only permit access to regime-approved websites and come with an app that monitors how the handset is used.

Each phone takes screenshots at random moments and stores them in a directory that they can’t be deleted from.

But in a new report, two defectors who fled the country have described a method for hacking the phones.

An app which can provides root access to the phones has been smuggled into the country from China.

The leader has announced new laws after an exploit emerged (KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Image)

Root access lets a user control every aspect of the phone and its files – including removing state software, deleting the screenshots and accessing the global Internet.

But the state has started to crack down on this hack, threatening “at least three months of labour education” for those who illegally install a “mobile phone manipulation programme.”

People who are discovered with “an impure publication” or a “propaganda material blocking programme” could be fined up to 100,000 North Korean won.

Whilst that only equates to under £100, it’s around 10 times the average salary in North Korea.

The hack looks to have come from China, where the North Korean regime sends some of its citizens to work on software. (KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Image)

In the report on the new hack, published by Lumen, an organisation providing uncensored information to North Korea, and ERNW, an IT security firm, the authors wrote: “The scale of the hacking still appears to be minor, but recent changes to North Korean law indicate national authorities view it as a serious problem.”

One of the defectors estimated that 30% of his classmates had tried the new hack, but another said that this only extended to less than 10% of the general population.

One of them said that people have started offering a phone-unlocking service for people who otherwise wouldn’t know how to.

Altering the number of screenshots on the phones can make them more valuable, too.

A folder full of the screenshots is a tell-tale sign of an older handset – since they can’t deleted, older phones have built up more screenshots over time.

The new hack will be a blow to North Korea’s relentless propaganda machine (KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Image)

Using the new hack to delete the screenshots, users can pass the phones off as newer and sell them for a higher price.

The hack looks to have come from China, where the North Korean regime sends some of its citizens to work on software.

It will be a blow to North Korea’s relentless propaganda machine.

The latest efforts from Kim Jong-un to upgrade his propaganda output have included him donning a Top Gun-style leather jacket and pair of sunglasses for a TV broadcast, in which he ordered his army to fire a missile.

Bloomberg reports that the recording was released just eight days after a failed ballistic missile launch in Pyongyang.

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