Researchers Reveal North Korean Android Tablet Woolim

Woolim, a locked down and severely restricted North Korean Android tablet was recently showcased by a couple of researchers attending this year's Chaos Communication Congress which took place in Hamburg, Germany on Tuesday. The tablet was manufactured by the Chinese company Hoozo circa 2015, but the North Korean authorities apparently removed a lot of its internal hardware, including the tablet's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth adapters. As researchers Florian Grunow, Manuel Lubetzki, and Niklaus Schiess explained on Tuesday, Woolim was primarily designed to track its users and serve as a propaganda platform for the North Korean government. In addition to lacking a lot of conventional internal components, Woolim comes with a preinstalled build of some proprietary North Korean software. While the tablet is apparently running some version of Android, it's completely locked down and only usable in a limited number of scenarios.

Woolim comes packed with several PDF manuals detailing how to use the device. Apart from featuring several apps containing North Korean propaganda, the tablet also boasts several educational apps including Chinese, French, and Russian dictionaries, and some slightly modified mobile games like Angry Birds. Finally, the device is technically capable of connecting to the North Korean Internet and television. While the tablet features a micro USB port and a file browser, it only allows users to load a small number of files. Namely, Grunow explained how the tablet's software is programmed to check a cryptographic signature of every file a user attempts to open, including APKs, pictures, audio files, and even HTML documents. If this signature doesn't match that generated by the North Korean government or the tablet itself, Woolim won't open the file. This crippling feature was demonstrated by Grunow in Hamburg as the researcher unsuccessfully tried to install a third-party app on the tablet. Finally, the device also takes a picture of its user every time they open an app. While these photos are available for viewing inside another app, they can't be deleted by users.

Grunow and his colleagues weren't sure for whom is Woolim made for, but seeing how the hardware itself would cost up to $210 in China, they've guessed that this tablet is definitely aimed at North Korean nationals with a lot of money, so its target audience is probably more limited than its features.

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Dominik Bosnjak

Head Editor
Dominik started at AndroidHeadlines in 2016 and is the Head Editor of the site today. He’s approaching his first full decade in the media industry, with his background being primarily in technology, gaming, and entertainment. These days, his focus is more on the political side of the tech game, as well as data privacy issues, with him looking at both of those through the prism of Android. Contact him at [email protected]