China’s widespread monitoring infrastructure, aided by inadequate or in some cases nonexistent encryption, has exposed a great deal of data to manipulation and espionage. Chinese software has been identified to be laced with tracking applications as well. 

Chinese software is not entirely safe. Rather, Chinese software has faced severe criticism for using tracking software and collecting user data without their consent. The following issues have been identified with most Chinese software:

  • Infected with malware.
  • Infected with tracking software.
  • Collecting user data and maintaining mass surveillance. 

This article will aim to explain the nature of Chinese software and the aim of Chinese companies in this regard. Furthermore, a case study on TikTok will be explained in light of flaws in Chinese software that have been identified.

What Is Tracking And Why Does It Work On TikTok?

The study reveals that TikTok may add code to web pages accessed via an app link. As certain websites are viewed in the in-app browsers as opposed to Chrome or Safari, the malware modifies them to allow for spying.

Experts conducted a search across many government and industrial sectors to determine which websites pertinent to Chinese national safety utilize HTTPS for their login page.

After Facebook, Instagram, and Google, TikTok becomes the next social media network to become a notorious surveillance platform. 

Recent research by software specialist Felix Krause suggests that TikTok may monitor your internet activities even if you use the app to visit other websites.

This enables the Chinese software to track your keystrokes and website activities. TikTok may simply utilize this information to obtain sensitive data such as credit card details and passwords.

Although Tiktok declined to comment, it confirmed to Forbes that such a code is really included in the TikTok in-app browser. However, the official said that the software does not employ the code to track internet users.

Like other platforms, this software employs an in-app browser to deliver an ideal user experience.  

However, the Javascript code in issue is solely used for debugging, troubleshooting, and performance analysis of this experience, such as determining how quickly a website loads or whether it crashes

This software is included in a third-party development kit (SDK) that includes functionality that TikTok does not utilize, according to TikTok.

Why Chinese Websites Are Not Safe?

The majority of websites including login portals for government services, important national infrastructure, and social media sites have not yet embraced HTTPS.

Thus, the websites are susceptible to manipulation and impersonation by third-party companies, and foreign intelligence services can more readily capture sensitive user data transmitted with the website. 

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It is important to note that certain Chinese websites utilize HTTPS. Others put HTTPS content within an HTTP page, however, this is inadequate since Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) Attacks might replace the “genuine” login page with a “fake” one; these are also known as imposter web sites. 

There may be a number of reasons why China’s present website security and cyber defense skills are dismal. Authorities and private firms operating the websites may have been ignorant of their inadequate security measures.

In the West, private enterprises and nongovernmental organizations have campaigned for HTTPS deployment, but in China, such initiatives may not have occurred. 

In order to support China’s information controls apparatus, the government may have intentionally degraded encryption and security practices, which may have hampered cybersecurity and defensive capabilities.

Information restrictions (executed via monitoring, censorship, inducing self-censorship, and strategic distribution of information) have both economic and human liberties ramifications. This has led to widespread protests among the population.

China and many Western nations rely extensively on surveillance and discourse manipulation to control the information within their borders. In contrast, democracies differ in their data processing tactics by restricting censorship and fostering self-censorship among their populace.

Some critics say that controlling the free flow of data has stunted progress, as evidenced in the live-streaming business, despite the fact that overly restrictive information regulations have not impeded China’s digital economy’s expansion. 

This raises the issue of whether the Great Firewall (China’s surveillance program) or SORM (System of Operational Investigative Operations—online Russia’s surveillance system) may be utilized for defensive or offensive purposes during possible hostile activities.

The infrastructure of the Great Firewall, for instance, has been utilized for hostile purposes overseas in an attack nicknamed the Great Cannon, which was a distributed denial-of-service strike. Long ago, China may have prioritized its offensive cyber capabilities over its defensive ones. 

Perhaps a larger rethinking is required in China to allow internet users greater freedom or anonymity by enhancing true cybersecurity however, the need for absolute control and power is the sole priority of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at this time it seems.

How Is Chinese Software Unsafe?

The following points elaborate on why the Chinese software is not safe:

1. Pre-Installed Malware

There have been at least six instances of pre-installed malware on Chinese-made products in the previous five years. 

Without the users’ knowledge or permission, the spyware built backdoors and gathered sensitive data. Mobile phones and computers were regular targets in known occurrences without the victims’ knowledge.

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In November 2016, Shanghai Adups Technology Company, a famous Chinese-based firmware provider, delivered malware to numerous manufacturers, who pre-installed it onto least 120,000 mobile phones. The spyware gathered the contents of users’ text messages, contact lists, call records, location data, phone identifying numbers, and other sensitive information. 

These were targeted against phone companies Huawei and ZTE. The U.S. has banned imports from these companies as of 2022 due to the spyware and security concerns.

The malware was identified on around 750,000 Lenovo devices a year ago. Lenovo, a Chinese manufacturer, pre-installed spyware that captured browsing data and injected material into users’ browsers to offer tailored adverts.

Inadvertently, the spyware generated a second security flaw that enabled websites to issue counterfeit security certificates.  In March 2018, researchers finally connected the Chinese mobile distributor Tian Pai to pre-installed spyware on around five million cellular devices.

The infection posed as Wi-Fi security software and then installed extra software without the knowledge or consent of the victims. Before being discovered, the virus deployed botnet and advertising software. 

2. Economic Gain For The Chinese Government

In many instances, China-based companies install malware on items for economic rather than political reasons. 

The companies want to use the technology to push funded software onto users’ devices, embed advertising into users’ browsers, or collect data to sell to marketers. 

Nevertheless, regardless of the firm’s initial goal, China’s government can co-opt the software and data collected by these enterprises owing to China’s cyber security rules and regulations.

It may be a mere coincidence that a popular Chinese proverb aptly captures a recent breach in the Chinese messaging service MiMi.  

In another instance, a hacker group supported by the Chinese government placed harmful malware into this chat software, basically replicating the historic SolarWinds attack which affected several U.S. government agencies and many private companies.

A copy of the MiMi app containing malicious code was offered to users as a result of attackers gaining the power of the server that supplied the app. In short, this attack on the software supply chain compromised the software delivery pipeline.

3. HTTPS-TLS1.3-ESNI is Blocked By China

By means of the latest firewall version, Chinese authorities will exclusively target HTTPS traffic that uses modern technologies such as TLS 1.3 or encrypted server name indication (ESNI).

Other HTTPS traffic that utilizes previous models of the same protocols, such as TLS 1.1 or 1.2, or SNI, is still permitted to get across the Great Firewall (Server Name Indication).

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For HTTPS connections established using these older technologies, Chinese censors can deduce the domain to which a user is attempting to connect. This is accomplished by examining the (plaintext) SNI parameter during the initial phases of an HTTPS connection.

4. Software Supply Chain Attack

If these computer supply chain hacks emanated solely from criminal gangs, international leaders may sleep more soundly. This is an example of a proxy attack, in which the party desiring and funding the attack isn’t actually the one performing it. This can help to offer an alibi or deniability in case of an investigation.

The fact that a hacking organization funded by the Chinese government is attacking software supply chains, however, indicates that world leaders must view this trend as part of realpolitik and not as mere criminality. 

This tendency affects the seamless passage of past digital trade and threatens to raise the cost of acquiring software, as purchasers investigate purchases from “untrustworthy” providers.

The global software distribution network does not need to be kept captive by attackers. There are ways to safeguard the confidentiality of the computer supply chain, but they’re not extensively used at the moment, exposing a security gap for attackers.

Whenever a software distribution network assault happens nowadays, especially when other good software programs are hijacked and transformed into malware vectors, it is safe to say that no one is protected from such threats.

However, the software does not have to be this way. Digital signatures and other safeguards can help secure the authenticity of the computer supply chain.  Security best practices and plenty of user awareness can and does massively decrease the risk of attack from a variety of vectors.

Conclusion

In China, the majority of company IT departments need to gain the resources and expertise necessary to gather important information and make it meaningful for decision-making and workers. There is a scarcity of data scientists, analysts, and scientists in the sector.

Therefore, it can be conclusively said that the Chinese Government and businesses must collaborate to address privacy and security concerns and make Chinese software more secure by ensuring compliance with international security and safety standards. 

In addition, it is wise to research any software a company or an individual wishes to purchase or download. Understanding where the product is created and company is headquartered can be a huge factor in the safety of your data, identity, and devices.