An official Chinese government app called “Study the Great Nation” has reportedly given the Chinese Communist Party the ability to spy on more than 100 million citizens by providing “back door” access to users’ devices.
BBC News reports that a recent analysis of the Chinese-made “Study the Great Nation” app has revealed that hidden elements within the app could help monitor, use, and copy data from users’ devices. The hidden elements were discovered by phone security experts Cure 53 who noted that the app gives the Chinese government “super-user” access to individuals devices.
The app was released in February and has since become the most downloaded free program in China thanks to demands by the Chinese authorities that citizens download and install it. The Chinese government has denied that the app had the monitoring abilities listed by Cure 53.
The article publishes official news and images from the Chinese government and encourages users to earn points by reading and commenting on articles as well as playing quizzes about China and the country’s leader Xi Jinping. The use of the app is mandatory for some party officials and civil servants and is often tied to wages in some workplaces. Journalists in the country must pass a test about the life of President Xi via the app this month in order to obtain a press card enabling them to do their jobs.
German cyber-security firm Cure 53 analyzed the app on behalf o the Open Technology Funds which campaigns on human rights issues. Cure 53 said in its report that the Great Nation app had “extensive logging” abilities.
The report stated that it was “evident and undeniable that the examined application is capable of collecting and managing vast amounts of very specific data.” The app also weakened encryption used to hide data and messages making it easier for the government to gain access. The report stated: “The app contains code resembling a back door, which is able to run arbitrary commands with super-user privileges.”
Adam Lynn, research director at the Open Technology Fund, told the Washington Post: “It’s very, very uncommon for an application to require that level of access to the device, and there’s no reason to have these privileges unless you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be.” The Chinese government denied that the app worked the way that Cure 53 had described.