Chinese Authority Install Spyware on Tourists Android Phones, Downloads Data from iPhones

Chinese authorities have decided to spy on foreigners crossing the border search. Authorities are installing spyware on Android phones. Once installed the spyware has access to the user’s calendar, phone contacts, text messages and call logs. Thats not all, the spyware also has access to user id acccross various apps.

Needless to say, iOS devices are somewhat resilient to such spyware. However, the authorities have devised a new way to download data from iOS phones. Vice report claims that border officials are using equipment to download data from iPhones. In all likelihood, this is something similar to the Cellebrite Universal Forensic Extraction device.

Foreigners crossing certain Chinese borders into the Xinjiang region, where authorities are conducting a massive campaign of surveillance and oppression against the local Muslim population, are being forced to install a piece of malware on their phones that gives all of their text messages as well as other pieces of data to the authorities, a collaboration by Motherboard, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Guardian, the New York Times, and the German public broadcaster NDR has found.

The Android malware, which is installed by a border guard when they physically seize the phone, also scans the tourist or traveler’s device for a specific set of files, according to multiple expert analyses of the software. The files authorities are looking for include Islamic extremist content, but also innocuous Islamic material, academic books on Islam by leading researchers, and even music from a Japanese metal band.

Unlike other spyware, the one installed by authorities doesn’t hide but instead displays an icon on the device. Apparently, only authorities can remove the spyware from the devices.

Our Take

Mass Surveillance is very common in communist-ruled China. It is estimated that China has 176 million public and private surveillance camera’s setup in Beijing alone. The country is also said to be using a facial recognition system to keep an eye on Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority in the Xinjiang region.

Border authorities searching foreigners for smartphones is not unheard of. Earlier this year, Apple employee, Andreas Gal was detained for three hours by U.S Customs and Border Protection who demanded access to his iPhone XS and MacBook Pro laptop. That being said openly installing spyware on phone and downloading personal data is outrageous. We hope authorities like Human Rights Organization take cognizance of the matter.