Popular Chinese apps like Truecaller, Shareit, WeChat, Weibo, and others have invited the wrath of the Indian government as political tensions between both countries escalate. An advisory issued by the Home Ministry has reportedly warned all defense personnel of a potential cyber attack from Chinese hackers. The armed forces have been ordered to uninstall 42 Chinese apps from their mobile phones, according to reports. These are some of the most popular social messaging and communication apps.
The ban comes to effect immediately. All officers have been told to format both their official and personal smartphones. “According to reliable inputs, a number of Android/IOS apps developed by Chinese firms or having Chinese links are reportedly either spyware or other malicious ware. Use of these apps by our personnel can be detrimental to… national security,” the advisory issued on November 24 stated.
The ban also includes a bunch of apps owned by Alibaba (UC News, UC Browser) and Xiaomi (Mi Store, Mi Community, Mi Video Call), as well as popular ones like Viva Video, Beauty Plus, CM Browser, Clean Master, QQ Launcher, Baidu Translate, Baidu Maps, Parallel Space and more. UC, incidentally, has over 500 million users in India, and is the most popular mobile browser ahead of even Google Chrome. The advisory, however, doesn’t shed any light on how these apps would pose a threat to the country’s security.
Back in 2015, the Defense Ministry had blocked internet access and stopped the use of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled devices in elite political circles on apprehensions of attacks from Chinese hackers. That same year, a Singapore-based cyber security firm had uncovered a Chinese cyber espionage network targeting the Indian armed forces with a bug called APT30. Nothing emerged of it though. Earlier this year, the government had cracked down on UC Browser for allegedly sending user data to remote servers in China.
Even Xiaomi, which is India’s leading smartphone vendor now, had raised alarms in the country’s defense sector. In 2014 soon after it launched here, the Indian Air Force had issued a warning titled ‘Medium Severity Rating’ to those using Xiaomi phones. It alleged that Xiaomi phones were sending data to Chinese servers, without any authorization, and they would be able to gauge the co-ordinates of Indian defense forces that way. Xiaomi, of course, issued a clarification stating that it was moving its data out of China to other servers. Now onto these apps to respond to the Home Ministry’s charges.