Daily NK has obtained a copy of “Chammae 1.0,” a program that can bypass the smartphone security authentications recently put into place by North Korean authorities on the country’s smartphones. Chammae appears to be a prototype of “Bidulgi,” an existing piece of bypass software.

Daily NK previously reported that some North Koreans are using a program that defeats the surveillance and tracking systems used by the North Korean authorities to block smartphone users from accessing foreign information and videos.

Mun Chong Hyun, the head of the ESTsecurity Security Response Center (ESRC), told Daily NK on Monday that Chammae “appeared to be an early version of Bidulgi,” and that the program “converts outside [non-North Korean] files on a mobile phone.”

The copy of Chammae obtained through ESRC ran right away on Windows 7 and 10. No special installation process was required.

Chammae’s icon is striking in that it shows something penetrating a smartphone’s shield. The icon seems to express in direct terms that the program bypasses smartphone security authentications. 

On Chammae’s left side panel are options for “mobile phone” and “tablet computer” along with a text field to enter an International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, while on the right side is a space to upload the file to convert. Click on “tablet computer,” and the IMEI field changes to “device number.” Lacking IMEI numbers as they are not mobile devices, tablet computers appear to use serial numbers for authentication. 

The program is relatively easy to use. Select the type of device you would like to stick the file on, enter the IMEI number, add the file to convert to the list, and click “convert.”

Chammae can convert image, document and music files. It cannot convert unpermitted file formats such as Android application packages (APK).

The converted files ran normally after they were copied to a North Korean smartphone. North Korean smartphones automatically delete unauthenticated files. In short, Chammae renders powerless the security systems installed on smartphones by the North Korean authorities.

Generally, smartphones available in South Korea and internationally run external files through an internal authentication process. North Korea’s smartphones, however, are designed to run only files authenticated by the authorities.

A screenshot of the program. / Image: ESTsecurity Security Response Center

According to experts, North Korean smartphones have an independent authentication system along with a “state authentication” system. The independent one authenticates files generated on the smartphone, while the state one gives North Korean authorities the ultimate power to grant authentication to particular files. 

It appears that Chammae grants the smartphone’s independent authentication to files.

In fact, a file authenticated using the IMEI of smartphone A was automatically deleted on smartphone B, while a file authenticated using smartphone B’s IMEI was deleted on smartphone A. If Chammae had granted state authentication, the file would have run normally on both smartphones.

Additionally, the program has a separately defined “period of use.” This appears aimed at using regular program updates to minimize information spreading through smartphones.

The period of use of the copy of Chammae 1.0 obtained by Daily NK was Jan. 1, 2015 to Dec. 31 of this year.

“Since there is a period of use, it may not run normally on North Korea’s latest smartphones,” said Moon. “We have to test it on various smartphones to see if it runs properly.”

Meanwhile, some observers raise the possibility that Chammae was officially created and distributed by the North Korean authorities. 

The national bird, the chammae (goshawk), has so much symbolic significance in North Korea that it is the codename of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s official aircraft. Because of this, it would be somewhat difficult to stick the name Chammae onto a privately created piece of illegal software. The program’s limited use period and need for continuous maintenance like updates lends strength to this claim. Moreover, if Chammae is an official program, Bidulgi would likely be as well.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.