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dna exclusive: Army sees red over its personnel chatting on Chinese apps

Thursday, 23 January 2014 - 7:31am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The Indian army has raised the alarm over use of chat and social media apps on smartphones by its personnel and warned them that WeChat could be used by China for snooping.

In a top secret internal communication to all military commanders, the Director General of Military Operations has asked all army personnel and their family members to restrict use of mobile applications, whose servers are hosted outside India, as it can lead to “inadvertent loss of sensitive information”.

Referring to the telecom regulation in China, the note, which has been accessed by dna,  says, “Every internet company and telecom operator in China, both foreign and domestic, is held legally liable for all content shared through their platforms.”

The note assumes significance in the light of Centre’s policy to promote domestic manufacturers of telecom products as it is worried that foreign suppliers of telecom equipment, especially Chinese, might indulge in cyber espionage during a crisis or war.

“Applications like WeChat, Weibo and QQ are Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook messaging applications and pose ‘potent threat’ in the light of Chinese internet and telecom regulation,” the note says, pointing out that WeChat is developed by Tencent Holdings, China. The application is available on all popular mobile platforms including Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows and Symbian.

The app was initially launched as Weixin in China in January 2011 and rebranded as WeChat in April 2012. It is being promoted in India through gaming site Ibibo, in which Tencent holds a stake.

“Its rich features have made WeChat an instant hit globally, its location sharing and cloud based back-up of contacts, information etc on Chinese Servers pose potent threats especially to military users,”the note claims.

It also cited a study conducted by University of California, which discovered in April 2013 that the code of WeChat, ‘though intended to be private, was left public’. It further points out that security vulnerabilities, which expose private information allow outsiders to fraudulently post messaging from other people’s accounts, were discovered.

“In January 2013, it was revealed that WeChat’s international messages were being censored too. This clearly indicates that all data, even of Indian users, shared through WeChat may be monitored or regulated by Chinese authorities,” the army’s internal note says.

The army claims that the location-sharing feature of the app may be fraudulently used to track  and target people, especially those working in defence, scientific, industrial research or other government sectors.

When contacted WeChat for reaction, they declined to comment on the issue.

“This may lead to determination of exact physical location and pattern of movement of person or group. The tracked location may also permeate to related social sites, applications which may become permanent and searchable,”the note states.

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