OS X replica made in DPRK
In late 2014 a guy called "slipstream" leaked a copy of North Korea's linux operating system "Red Star OS" to the web. I got curious about it and checked it out immediately. What I found was basically a typical desktop linux, comparable to Ubuntu or Fedora, attempted to feel like Apple's OS X.
Behind the curtain
The very difference to popular linux distributions is its set of malicious tools, designed to run without users to notice. Particularly interesting is a service called "opprc". A background process that can not be killed by the user. First of all its job is to scan the systems hard drive for media files. As soon as it hits one, it adds a secret line of data to the file - a "watermark". In case of jpeg files it appends it right to the end. This data contains an encrypted copy of the hard drive serial. The changes applied to the media files are not perceivable by the user.
Unveil the invisible
To reflect the quality of "opprc" and its characteristics within an aesthetical scope, I came up with this project. "Inter Alias" is a database of jpeg images showing random peoples portraits (grabbed from wikimedia) signed by "opprc". The crux is that every image's "watermark" is shifted from the invisible right into the most sensitive area of the jpeg structure. This produces serious artefacts all over the area. Furthermore every portrait carries its very own watermark because they all ran through copies of "Red Star OS" stored on individual virtual hard drives.
Rocking the boat
In July 2016 "Inter Alias" was part of the annual exhibition of Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Germany. In exhibition, visitors got their portraits taken to set up an image database just like the original one. It was reflected with black and white prints covering the wall as well as online, of course.
This website presents several hundred portraits captioned by their corresponding watermark. It also shelters the documentation of "Inter Alias" on exhibition. "Inter Alias" was mentioned by Florian Grunow at 33C3.
In order to crank all these images out, I created a set of tools written in Bash. They are available here.
- "Red Star OS" on Wikipedia
- Original web leak of "Red Star OS"
- Niklaus Schiess about "opprc" (video) at 32C3
- Synopsis of tools around "Red Star OS"
- "JPEG" on Wikipedia
- "Bash" on Wikipedia
- Snowden, Chomsky, and Greenwald discuss privacy (video)