An exhibit showing the spectrum analyzer at the 2019 National Information Technology Advancement Exposition. / Image: DPRK Today's YouTube channel

North Korea has allegedly developed its own version of what is called a “spectrum analyzer.” Daily NK sources suspect that the device, which was presented as a “Top 10 tech product” at the “2019 National Information Technology Advancement Exposition,” could be used to spy on North Korean citizens.

On Monday, Daily NK spoke to an expert in the field of radio waves, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s essentially possible to detect and track wireless signals – frequencies – with a spectrum analyzer,” he said.

Simply explained, a spectrum analyzer is a piece of electronic equipment which measures the magnitude of known and unknown input signal set against the full frequency range of the instrument.

The specialist was not able to determine how advanced North Korea’s latest development really is. Nevertheless, he thought it’s possible the device “might even be used to wiretap calls on mobile phones.”

Other experts also agreed that the analyzer could be capable of detecting data transmission signals, which most North Koreans send out during a wireless communication.

It’s no secret that the state has long been intercepting the wireless communications devices of its citizens. Most surveillance equipment was previously imported from abroad. Now, however, North Korea has apparently managed to develop and manufacture similar instruments of its own.

The country’s citizens thus might have to adjust to an even tighter surveillance system soon. North Korea has furthermore deepened this suspicion by announcing the launch of a new artificial intelligence-based video surveillance system.

A MILESTONE FOR THE KIM JONG UN REGIME?

Spectrum analyzers can, moreover, play a role in the research, design and production of other electronic devices. “The analyzer has a powerful corrective ability,” the North Korean propaganda service “Maeari” stated on Nov. 22. “It guarantees reliance and precision in the detection of signals, regardless of the kind of frequencies and surrounding conditions.”

Maeari further claimed the state’s new device was primarily intended to “demodulate even modulated sonic signals and play the original audio in real time.”

The technological breakthrough could thus be a milestone for the Kim Jong Un regime, which has long been trying to advance the information technology and high-tech equipment industry in North Korea.

North Korea might be looking to develop their spectrum analyzers without any support from foreign suppliers to circumvent the trade sanctions imposed by the international community, which also affect the import of electronic products to North Korea.

TOO SOON TO TELL

Sources further interpreted the efforts of the regime as a way to substantially reduce its expenditures. As Daily NK reported last year, North Korea spent approximately RMB 15 million (KRW 2.45 billion) on state-of-the-art jammers as well as bugging devices for mobile phones.

“Other countries develop spectrum analyzers, too, but are unable to make full use of their potential due to the immense production costs,” the propaganda outlet Maeari claimed. 

North Korea, according to Maeari, thus “has developed the spectrum analyzer from scratch – we have defined it anew – and we only use our own technology and abilities, all the way from its design to its production.”

Maeari’s claims lined up with calls by North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un for more self-reliance as well as for a greater focus on the domestic production of technology.

The radio expert consulted by Daily NK, in contrast, considered the elation of the North Korean regime a little premature. “It’s going to be a long way until the spectrum analyzer will be fully developed,” he said.

Manufacturing the device is actually quite simple as it mainly “requires fairly common technologies,” according to the source. However, some components – those needed to detect high frequencies, for example – are technically more advanced – and thus harder to come by.

Translated by Violet Kim and edited by Laura Geigenberger

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.