The Chinese Communist Party published an app called & # 39; Study the Great Nation & # 39; earlier this year which it strongly advertises and even mandates many citizens to use. Although it seems like a pure propaganda tool at first glance and seems to act as a news and factual resource for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his party, it seems designed to monitor users and even sport a super-user backdoor that it can use to collect more data.
With the country's extensive breach of human rights in mind, the Open Technology Fund commissioned German security research firm Cure53 to revise the product developed by Alibaba. The first hurdle the researchers faced can already be read as evidence of the app's unintended intentions: The code is equipped with anti-reversal techniques. Cure53 reasons why it is likely that there are more malicious or curious instructions hidden behind this unusual coding practice than what the company could find among the decrypted parts of the app.
The evidence that the security researchers made found is significant enough, though. Some "codes that look like a back door" give the app super-user privileges. Although Cure53 states that "no evidence of use could be identified during this test and further investigation is needed," an app like this should have no root access business. Apparently, Alibaba is not only involved in maintaining the app itself, but was also tasked with building the back door, as the company's name can be found in the respective code.
Further evidence includes file transfer of user data and information on the device, purposefully weak cryptographic algorithms for login and personal information, and similarities to other Chinese spy apps. You could argue that the former is only for statistical purposes, but along with the other evidence, it should set off some alarm bells.
The findings are not surprising for a country that does not value privacy in any form. The app is not in the Play Store; It is only officially available in China and is aimed exclusively at its citizens, but since Alibaba is an internationally operating company, some control by regulators abroad may be on the way.
Image: Hanson Lu at Unsplash