The government of Bharat banned 59 Chinese mobile applications, including social media platforms such as TikTok, Helo and WeChat, to counter the threat posed by these applications to the country’s “sovereignty and security”.
The Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, part of the MHA, has sent an exhaustive recommendation for blocking the malicious apps. There are 30 Crore unique Indian users of Chinese apps installed in the 45 crores smartphone users. 3.2 crore users of TikTok, 5 Crore users of Helo App (Byte Dance owns both Helo and TikTok) and 5 Crore downloads of ShareIt. While the reaction by people at large is positive, some pseudo-intellectuals pose questions like “What can a ban on Apps do?”. To understand this, we have to go back to 2001.
In 2001, an Internet Service provider ‘Now India’ launched an aggressive marketing campaign offering internet connectivity at an aggressive price. It attracted a huge customer base. However, a strange fact came to light as the software was being installed. A tool called ‘Unicenter’ was getting automatically installed as a “Remote control troubleshooting tool”. This was not listed in the End-User agreement. Normal users could not see the tool at all. This tool gave the service provider direct access to the personal computer of the user. When this was raised, ‘Now India’ denied and was confronted with proof.
‘Now India’ turned out to be a subsidiary of a Hong Kong-based group headed by an entrepreneur who had close links with Chinese establishment. ‘Now India’ had listed a foreign participant called Pacific Convergence (Mauritius) Ltd. Inquiries revealed that this too was a subsidiary of the same Hong Kong company. The internet traffic was being routed through the two servers of yet another ISP and reached the gateway of another Chinese company in Hong Kong.
Sadly, when this was initially brought to the notice of the establishment, the whistle-blowers were brushed away as being paranoid.
Attacking pressure points Strategically
China has been working to develop devices though which it can cut off leaders of the enemy country from the people and Army commanders from their soldiers. The point is to hit the “brain, heart and nervous system” of the enemy causing strategic paralysis. The more modern a society gets, the more it depends on technology and gets integrated systems. Mark A Stokes in his RAND report “China’s strategic modernisation” notes “Engineers have conducted feasibility studies on introducing viruses (bingdu) into adversary’s computer systems from long distances via wireless”.
It is precisely why many of the Chinese hardware companies and apps were already banned from strategic locations in the defence, surveillance and space initiatives of Bharat. But how does usage by consumers threaten security?
The answer lies in botnet & AI. A botnet is a string of connected computers coordinated together to perform a task. That can be maintaining a chatroom, or it can be taking control of your computer. Botnets are the workhorses of the Internet. They’re connected computers performing a number of repetitive tasks to keep websites going. It’s most often used in connection with Internet Relay Chat.
While many botnets are legal & useful, illegal and malicious botnets gain access to your machine through malicious coding. In a few cases, the machine is hacked, while in most cases a “spider” (a program that crawls the Internet looking for holes in security to exploit) does the hacking automatically. Botnets look to add your computer to their web which happens through a drive-by download or fooling you into installing a Trojan horse. Once the software is downloaded, the botnet will contact its master computer and let it know that everything is ready to go. Now your computer, phone or tablet is entirely under the control of the person who created the botnet. Once the botnet’s owner is in control of your computer, they usually use your machine to carry out other nefarious tasks.
In most cases, we sign user agreements, through the tab “I agree” while installing apps. This gives the company hosting the apps to get access to data on our mobile. We provide them with access to phone contacts, SMS, audio files, videos and notes. Some apps also have access to the clipboard. Now, on many occasions, we copy passwords, user ids and paste. In such cases, they are stored on the clipboard. Getting access to the clipboard means, gaining access to our sensitive information.
List apps banned by Ministry of Electronics & IT
While the Bharatiya armed forces will give a fitting reply to the Chinese armed forces, the little we can do is to do a stepwise lockdown on Chinese apps, software and hardware in a phased manner
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
It is not only Chinese apps, but even other companies use AI to gauge consumer behaviour. App companies earn crores using and selling our data travel, food, clothes and other choices. In most cases, we would have already signed our agreement when we press “I agree” in the installation.
These are the perils of the over-dependence of technology. It is therefore important that the software that we install on our machines & mobiles are from dependable sources which we can rely on. One country which we cannot rely on with our data is China.
Investments by Chinese Army
The Chinese army (PLA) makes strategic business investments too. We must be aware of firms that are being offered doles for working in Chinese markets.
China uses every person that they can get their hands on - tourists, scientists, personnel of firms that are profiting from or hoping to benefit from operations in China. They invest in lobbyists, journalists media, a visit by a scientist, providing a service at a low cost. This determined pursuit as well as the method - espionage and theft using multiple sources - continues to this day.
The US has always been wary of the Chinese threat. The TIME magazine reports, FBI keeps a tab on over 3000 companies in the US suspected of collecting information for China.
So Why Do Some ‘Intellectuals’ Oppose the Ban? China is investing 1.3 Billion US Dollars in media propaganda worldwide. A significant amount goes to journalists, foreign civil servants, think tanks and others who are furthering the Chinese agenda.
Xinhua ( Chinese News Agency ) has 170 foreign bureaus. China radio controls 30+ radio stations in 14 countries. China is investing in creating 100+ Global Think tanks. We know that those pseudo-intellectuals are actually on the payroll of the Chinese propaganda machinery.
While the Bharatiya armed forces will give a fitting reply to the Chinese armed forces, the little we can do is to do a stepwise lockdown on Chinese apps, software and hardware in a phased manner finding Bharatiya Or other alternatives in case we don’t have a Bharatiya alternative as of now.
(Author is a CEO in a software company and a regular contributor on technological and civilisational issues)