Cybersecurity experts have warned that a mobile app promoting the ideology of the communist president could have been spying on 100 million citizens.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s app ‘Study (Xi) Strong Country’ was made mandatory for all communist party members to download and read everyday.
Many citizens have had wages ‘tied’ to the app making it a compulsory download.
The app, which was released in January, has been likened to a “Facebook for Communist supporters” could be spying on the citizens who downloaded the smartphone software.1
Users are able to read reports from Chinese state media, carry out video chats and send virtual gifts to friends.
The German cyber experts who carried out the investigation, Cure53, found the app had ‘hidden’ monitoring.
The app has become the most downloaded app in the country and is now believed to be capable of spying on its users’ activity.
Its name, ‘Study (Xi) Strong Country’ (学习强国), which is a witty wordplay as President Xi’s family name can also mean ‘study’ in Chinese.
President Xi is regarded as the most powerful leader in China since Chairman Mao.
He app was found to have ‘hidden’ monitoring functions and gave officials ‘super-user’ access. It was also found to have “extensive logging” capabilities.
The Cure53 report read: “The Cure53 team finds it evident and undeniable that the examined application is capable of collecting and managing vast amounts of very specific data.
‘It is certain that the gathered material can become a basis for further actions concerning a specific group (or groups) of citizens”
The Chinese government has denied claims that the app is being used for monitoring purposes.
However, the BBC revealed that journalists from the country are required to download the app and complete a quiz on President Xi in order to receive a press pass via the app.
The app has been likened to Chairman Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ from the 1970’s.
More than one billion copies of the pocket sized booklet were distributed during China’s Cultural Revolution, making it the second-most printed book in the world after the Bible. It included Chairman Mao’s philosophy and was regarded as a must-have item for Chinese people in the 1960s and 1970s.
Although the Cure53 team say the collection of such meta-data and device information could be legitimate, they queried why it would be needed for an ‘educational‘ app.
They added: ‘The arguably intentional use of weak encryption in the code which appears to be related to biometric data and email encryption cannot be set aside as any sort of requirement of education-driven goals.
‘According to the European Convention on Human Rights, which stands among other examples of agendas and corresponds to related court rulings, the above practice can be considered a violation of human rights. ‘
Along with the mobile software, a website of the same name was also launched on January 1.
A chart released by statistical consulting firm Qimai earlier this year shows ‘Study (Xi) Strong Country’ (green) topping the download chart for free iPhone apps for more than a month while video app Douyin (red) and podcast app Ximalaya take the second and third spot
The Chinese government denied the app worked in the way Cure 53 characterised.
It told the Washington Post that the team behind Study the Great Nation had said there was “no such thing” in the program that resembled the capabilities Cure 53 identified.