Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Quiet digital revolution under way in North Korea -- will it be used for good, or as a weapon?

As his right hand grips the mouse, the physics major's eyes are fixed on a flat-screen monitor labeled with a red sticker reminding him the computer was a gift from Kim Jong Il.

Kim Nam Il says he prefers learning online to studying from books, and in that sense, the 21-year-old is just like other university students the world over.

North Korea is undergoing its own digital revolution, even as it grapples with chronic shortages of food and fuel. It is still among the most isolated of nations, with cyberspace policies considered among the most restrictive in the world. Yet inside Pyongyang, there's a small but growing digital world, and a whole new vocabulary to go with it: CNC, e-libraries, IT, an operating system called Red Star and a Web portal called Naenara.

In a world ever-wary of the unpredictable nation's motives, some see in North Korea's bid to train a generation of computer experts the specter of hackers launching attacks on the defense systems of rival governments. Others see the push to computerize factories and develop IT expertise as a political campaign designed to promote Kim Jong Un, the reputedly tech-savvy, Swiss-educated son being groomed to succeed his father as North Korea's next leader.

The country remains one of the hardest to penetrate — by email, by phone, by Internet. But there are signs of curiosity about the wired world outside. (more)