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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Video surveillance software made by Chinese state-owned industry leader Hikvision appears to be in use across schools and workplaces in North Korea, NK News has found.
With CCTV systems installed at schools, factories, power stations, and shops being shown off more frequently in DPRK state media, a range of monitoring interfaces, including Hikvision software, has appeared.
Calling itself the “world’s largest video surveillance manufacturer,” equipment from the brand’s maker Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., Ltd was banned by the U.S. in 2018 from being purchased by government agencies due to security implications of the company’s state-owned status.
In May of this year, reports emerged that the Trump administration was considering banning U.S. companies from exporting components to Hikvision, echoing an action previously taken against Chinese phone maker Huawei.
While North Korea’s intranet remains cut off from the world wide web – reducing the chances surveillance data could be unknowingly shared with the Chinese government – the software’s presence in the DPRK may at least point to cooperation in the sector.
There have also been reports of Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s and ZTE’s involvement in North Korean network upgrades in recent years, however, adding to the scope of potential Chinese interests and access to new systems in the DPRK.
With Washington also expressing concerns that U.S. company technology sold to ZTE and Huawei could be transferred on to Pyongyang, similar concerns may be raised with regards to Hikvision considering the apparent wide use of their products in North Korea.
In a review of dozens of programs on the state-run Korean Central Television (KCTV) and other state media outlets covering factories, schools, and other facilities, NK News found that a variety of surveillance software is in use, including what appear to be homegrown products.
But Hikvision’s NVR (network video recorder) 4.0 software and other versions from the Chinese giant also appeared in various iterations with different display settings.
For example, at both the Rason Drinks Factory (라선음료공장) and the Ryomyong Elementary School (려명소학교), the version geared towards the English-speaking market appears to be in use, with the Hikvision logo displayed in the empty feed boxes on the screen.
At the East Pyongyang Middle School No. 1 (동평양제1중학교) and Huchang Mine Power Station (후창광산발전소), on the other hand, Chinese messages reading “no video signal” appear instead.
Other indications on-screen indicative of Hikvision’s NVR software include a yellow alert icon and red recording icon in the top right of each video feed box, which can be seen in the examples from the locations mentioned above.
Software which could not be identified was also seen in use at various facilities, some with English text on-screen and others with Korean – including the program “Sentry” (초병) made by the Kim Chaek University of Technology’s Mirae Technology Company back in 2012.
The apparent wide use of other programs, however, exemplifies the disparate system of business management in North Korea, where managers of facilities are acquiring Chinese and other systems as well.
The domestic company Phurunhanul Electronics JV Co. also showed off a range of CCTV cameras at the 2018 National Exhibition Of IT Successes last fall, though some resembled Hikvision cameras, indicating possible cooperation between the two companies.
North Korean state media has promoted the use of CCTV systems at factories, farms, and other locations as contributing to productivity and the country’s scientific achievements.
It has also become common in news segments or other programs on KCTV to pose interviewees at various facilities in front of control room computer screens and especially in front of the CCTV monitor arrays.
In addition to such systems, state media continues to frequently promote distance learning through computer video calling programs.
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Sogwang