한국어 | September 30, 2016
September 30, 2016
Inside a North Korean mobile app
Inside a North Korean mobile app
South Korean technology expert investigates a North Korean mobile app
October 26th, 2014

A South Korean technology expert has looked into mobile game apps made by a North Korean programmer to see what kind of programs he or she used, and how far North Korea’s mobile app-making skills have come.

The target app was called “Nice Pig.” made by the username “Youngil Kim” or “silverstar1010,” and was made through widely used programs such as java eclipse, Cocos2D and the iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK).

“Those programs are the ones most commonly used by  mobile app makers, and it seems like North Korean app makers are following this trend when it comes to making mobile phone apps,” said Kang Jin-gyu, the manager of tech blog Digital Hurricane.

He explained that java eclipse is widely used among students who study computer science, and iPhone SDK is distributed by Apple for those who want to make mobile phone apps. He added Cocos2D is also one of the common programs app makers frequently use.

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“The iPhone SDK version used for this app … is little bit outdated, but generally, the app was made in quite a neat and clear way, following the global trend among mobile app makers,” said Kang.

THE KCC

Also, Kang said the developer of Nice Pig is a member of North Korea’s Korea Computer Center (KCC) and is currently based in India.

The KCC is a North Korean government information technology research center with more than 1,000 employees, and those employees receive training from foreign countries such as China, India or Russia.

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Kang reached that conclusion through a long period of monitoring the usernames Ilyoung Kim and silverstar1010 and through analysis of the IP address.

In August 2013,  Kang spotted an online community, which he believes was administered by overseas members of the KCC. The online community Softmonster, with the domain name www.kimilyoung.com was up and running online, and several members were actively using the community.

“The website was registered with an Indian IP address, but I tracked down the IP address of the one who opened the website, and it turned out this person moved from North Korea to India,” said Kang.

Captured image from October, 2011. The introduction page says, "the goal of this website is to help our programmers all over the world cooperate with each other for development, and 1. To make foreign money 2. to gain project experience

A captured image from kimilyoung.com from October 2011. The introduction page says, “The goal of this website is to help our programmers all over the world cooperate with each other for development, to make foreign money and to gain project experience.”

“The website kept changing its appearance, as if it didn’t want to look like it was run by North Korean people,” said Kang. “But … the IP address of website founder turned out to be from North Korea … I (also) got the unofficial confirmation from (a) South Korean government official that the username ‘Ilyoung Kim’ is a KCC member based in India.”

The website is no longer available, but Kang suspects another online community will be created by North Korean program developers in the future, since cooperation among developers is important within the IT industry.

Martyn Williams of North Korea Tech said the fact that there are engineers working in India does not surprise him. He pointed out one of the problems that KCC has is that its staff in Pyongyang cannot freely work with foreign clients over the Internet.

“By putting some trusted staff in India, they would be able to handle enquiries and meet customers,” he said. “It would be much easier than doing in from Pyongyang.”

NORTH KOREA’S OVERSEAS IT

The IT industry is one of the prominent areas North Korea has been eagerly trying to nurture, since it can be developed with limited capital and a relatively small labor force.

It was estimated that about 126,000 people were in the DPRK’s IT industry as of 2008, according to the Statistics Korea. A recent further report by the Bank of Korea in June estimated up to 170,000 North Koreans were in the IT business as of 2013, with the DPRK apparently generating 10,000 IT professionals every year from multiple institutions, including the KCC.

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The report added that about 46,000 North Korean workers have been dispatched to the foreign countries. It is estimated that 20,000 of them are in Russia and a further 19,000 are in China.  The report also noted that the workers in China seem to work in the IT industry, and get 25 to 35 percent less pay than their Chinese counterparts.

North Korean programmers dispatched to the foreign countries are engaged in tasks requiring high-level skills such as enterprise resource planning, business process management and e-business application, but the software they develop is mainly consumed domestically, as it is difficult to commercialize, according to the Bank of Korea’s report.

Featured image: Leo Byrne

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