North Korea Restricts Use of Laptop Computers Amid Security Concerns

2017-12-13
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Students work on computers at the Kim Il Sung University library in Pyongyang in a file photo.
Students work on computers at the Kim Il Sung University library in Pyongyang in a file photo.
AFP

North Korea has issued orders severely restricting the use of portable computer devices and memory chips in government and other offices following the recent thefts of laptop computers holding sensitive information, North Korean sources say.

The directive, which includes a ban on the use of old laptop computers, was issued in September, a source in Chagang province, bordering China, told RFA’s Korean Service this week.

“It was delivered to all town offices and post offices, train stations, and offices of the military, the ruling party, and judicial authorities in Chagang,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“This was a security measure taken to protect the state’s confidential information, since laptop computers and other portable devices are frequently being stolen,” the source said, without describing the kinds of restrictions currently in place.

A laptop computer in the chief clerk’s office in nearby South Pyongan province had been stolen in June, and “measures were finally taken because of this incident,” he said.

Laptops had earlier been stolen from Yanggang province’s statistics bureau in March 2014 and from Chagang’s city planning office in April 2015, the source said.

“And in June 2016, three Hitachi laptop computers were reportedly stolen from Military Police Office No. 3 in Sinuiju city,” across the river from China.

Many thefts go unreported

Though state investigators tried to track the missing computers, they could not get them back, the source said, adding, “Many more computers are probably missing but are not being reported, because their owners are worried they’ll be punished.”

Also speaking to RFA, a source in Yanggang province said that a separate order issued in June had authorized random searches by police of portable computer devices, including laptops and tablets, carried by citizens on the streets.

“In the past, the judicial authorities had only stopped people to inspect personal mobile devices and portable storage devices,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

“City and provincial security agents had inspected tablets, laptops, and desktop computers by visiting people in their homes,” he said.

Following the order issued in June, security agents are not allowed to carry out searches unless they are in uniform, though, the source said.

“This is because thieves will often disguise themselves as security agents to conduct fake ‘searches’ in order to steal laptops and tablets,” he said.

Reported by Sunghui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service.  Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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