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North Korean Authorities Ramping Up The Levels of Strictness at Weekly Self-Criticism Sessions

North Korea experts have suggested that the purpose of these sessions is to instill fear into the public, making them easier for authorities to control.

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Pyongyang citizens in a file photo. RFA

Following the breakdown of talks at the most recent U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, North Korean authorities are reportedly ramping up the levels of strictness at weekly life appraisal sessions.

Known as saenghwal chonghwa, the sessions are self-criticism meetings in which every citizen must individually confess their shortcomings on the political loyalty front.

The confessor must then hear additional criticism from other citizens, then form an action plan to compensate for those shortcomings.

Since the failed late-February Hanoi Summit, in which U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could not come to an agreement on denuclearization for sanctions removal, authorities in the repressive country are becoming increasingly rigid during these weekly meetings.

“These days, there is an air of tension at life appraisal sessions that can’t even be compared with how they were previously. Attendees can’t even cough out loud,” said a Pyongyang resident who recently traveled to China in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service.

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“North Korean citizens are becoming concerned about their future because [they think] this could mean that international sanctions will be even heavier.” Pixabay
The resident explained how the level of seriousness during saenghwal chonghwa ebbs and flows depending on how optimistic the regime feels on the current social climate.

“When there’s a positive social mood, [the sessions] were just perfunctory, but it’s not like that at all [right now],” said the source.

“[The sessions] usually take about an hour, but now it’s getting to be close to two hours,” the source said.

Simply going through the motions as usual is no longer enough, according to the source.

“If they are only moderately critical about themselves, or if their peers hold back, [the authorities] make them stand in front of everyone so that all in attendance can be more direct and more intensely criticize them,” the source said.

“It must feel just as miserable to give out such harsh criticism to colleagues and neighbors as it is to receive it,” said the source.

According to the source, the affair is normally planned out between attendees. Prior to the meetings they mutually agree on what to criticize each other about—usually trivial things.

“But it doesn’t work that way now. They have to harshly criticize each other. Now people are starting to make enemies even with their close neighbors during these life-appraisal sessions,” the source said.

North Korea experts have suggested that the purpose of these sessions is to instill fear into the public, making them easier for authorities to control.

In a recent report by the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, author Robert Collins detailed saenghwal chonghwa as one means by which the North Korean government uses the people to deny rights to each other, as a strategy of social control that extends even to the private lives of citizens.

A second source, from North Pyongan province, implied that being stricter at saenghwal chonghwa, is a means of diverting attention from the failed summit by keeping people on their toes.

Hanoi summit
Since the failed late-February Hanoi Summit, in which U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could not come to an agreement on denuclearization for sanctions removal, authorities in the repressive country are becoming increasingly rigid during these weekly meetings. VOA

“As talk about the collapse [of the summit] is spreading, the authorities seem to be intentionally creating tension by being stricter,” the source said.

The source recalled other gossip-worthy events that authorities wanted to silence discussion about.

“Whenever there are huge issues [to talk about], such as the execution of Jang Song-thaek [Kim Jong Un’s uncle, who experts believe was a legitimate challenge to Kim’s power,] the authorities tried to cover the mouths and ears of the public through strict life-appraisal sessions,” the source said.

“[They] are really emphasizing self-reliance more often during the sessions these days,” said the source, adding, “North Korean citizens are becoming concerned about their future because [they think] this could mean that international sanctions will be even heavier.”

The practice of saenghwal chonghwa began in March 1962. Usually 10 to 15 people from the workplace or neighborhood attend the sessions to collectively determine ways for each individual to become better citizens.

Every Saturday a weekly appraisal session is held, with a monthly session on the month’s final Saturday. There are also quarterly and yearly appraisals. The sessions are facilitated by low-level local inminban(neighborhood watch units) and detailed records are kept.

Also Read: “We Fled From Our Village Because We Are Afraid of Government Soldiers,” Weekend Fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine Drives 400 Villagers Homeless

None are spared from self-criticism, as even elites are subject to the weekly sessions.

Thae Yong-ho, a high-profile defector who once served as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, described the sessions in his memoir as “the most fundamental principle of the North Korean slave state.” (RFA)

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North Korea Hackers Target Think Tanks, Activists; Reveals Microsoft

By using forwarding rules, Thallium can continue to see email received by the victim, even after the victim's account password is updated

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FILE - A sign for Microsoft is seen on a building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 18, 2017. VOA

Microsoft has revealed that a North Korea-linked hacker group has stolen the sensitive personal information of government employees, think tanks, university staff members, members of organizations focused on world peace and human rights, as well as individuals who work on nuclear proliferation-related issues.

Microsoft has now gained control of 50 domains that the group uses to conduct its operations, the company said on Monday.

With this action, the sites can no longer be used to execute attacks.

A court case against the hacker group, called Thallium, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, resulted in a court order enabling Microsoft to take control of the web domains, Microsoft Customer Security and Trust Vice President Tom Burt said in a blog post.

Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) and the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) has been tracking and gathering information on Thallium, monitoring the group’s activities to establish and operate a network of websites, domains and Internet-connected computers.

This network was used to target victims and then compromise their online accounts, infect their computers, compromise the security of their networks and steal sensitive information.

Most targets were based in the US, as well as Japan and South Korea, Burt said.

Like many cybercriminals and threat actors, Thallium typically attempts to trick victims through a technique known as spear phishing.

FILE - Microsoft Corp. signage is shown outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Wash.
FILE – Microsoft Corp. signage is shown outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Wash. VOA

By gathering information about the targeted individuals from social media, public personnel directories from organizations the individual is involved with and other public sources, Thallium is able to craft a personalized spear-phishing email in a way that gives the email credibility to the target.

The link in the email redirects the user to a website requesting the user’s account credentials.

By tricking victims into clicking on the fraudulent links and providing their credentials, Thallium is then able to log into the victim’s account.

Upon successful compromise of a victim account, Thallium can review emails, contact lists, calendar appointments and anything else of interest in the compromised account.

The hackers often also creates a new mail forwarding rule in the victim’s account settings. This mail forwarding rule will forward all new emails received by the victim to Thallium-controlled accounts.

Also Read: Actor Pankaj Tripathi Likes to Put Work Before Vacay Plans

By using forwarding rules, Thallium can continue to see email received by the victim, even after the victim’s account password is updated.

“You can protect yourself from these types of attacks in at least three ways. We recommend, first, that you enable two-factor authentication on all business and personal email accounts,” Burt said.

“Second, learn how to spot phishing schemes and protect yourself from them. Third, enable security alerts about links and files from suspicious websites and carefully check your email forwarding rules for any suspicious activity,” he added. (IANS)