In a fresh advisory issued to the troops posted at the international border, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has warned that China could be collecting vital information about the Indian security installations through its popular mobile phone apps and devices. According to reports, the advisory issued by the DIG (Intelligence) has directed the troops posted along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to either delete a number of mobile applications from their smartphones or reformat the devices altogether to guard against online espionage attempts from across the border.
The IB advisory contains a list of about 42 popular Chinese apps, including WeChat, Truecaller, Weibo, UC Browser and UC News, which pose a grave threat to India’s security.
There is a possibility of these apps transmitting sensitive personal data to the Chinese authorities, which could be a major security disaster, the advisory states.
The fresh advisory comes at a time when the troops from both sides continue to maintain high alertness levels along the LAC after the resolution of a bitter border stand-off over Doklam.
Based on inputs received from the intelligence agencies, the armed forces regularly warn its officers and other ranks to avoid using Chinese apps in a bid to thwart the possible leak of vital info to the hostile neighbouring country via China-made mobile devices.
The Army, as well as the central armed police forces like the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, are deployed along the 4,057km LAC, which stretches from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
The IAF, for instance, had earlier asked all its officers and airmen as well as their families to avoid using Chinese Xiaomi smartphones and notebooks on the ground that they could transfer user data to remote servers located in China.
The note comes at a time when several Indian cybersecurity experts have raised concerns about the possible espionage attempts by the Chinese hackers and various military intelligence agencies of China. The note comes at a time when Indian industry has been discovering compromises in their cybersecurity infrastructure. A leading Indian giant had recently employed cybersecurity experts, who traced the origin of a massive cyber attack to Chinese hackers.
The warning from IB pertains to Android as well as IoS apps.
China has always denied accusations that it uses the Internet to spy on governments, organisations and companies. Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Internet regulator, immediately responded to written requests for comment on the FireEye report on Monday.
China has been accused before of targeting countries in South and Southeast Asia. In 2011, researchers from McAfee reported a campaign dubbed Shady Rat which attacked Asian governments and institutions, among other targets.
Efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to build cyber defences have been sporadic. While ASEAN has long acknowledged its importance, “very little has come of this discourse,” said Miguel Gomez, a researcher at De La Salle University in the Philippines.