Security Experts:

Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

SecurityWeekSecurityWeek

Management & Strategy

TikTok, WeChat Bans Not Crucial to US Security: Experts

The US bans on Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat are not particularly valuable for US security, experts told AFP Friday, but could step up broader commercial pressure on Beijing and help President Donald Trump appear tough as he seeks reelection.

The US bans on Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat are not particularly valuable for US security, experts told AFP Friday, but could step up broader commercial pressure on Beijing and help President Donald Trump appear tough as he seeks reelection.

In announcing the bans — to take effect in 45 days — Trump declared Thursday that Chinese mobile apps “threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”

Data collection by the apps, he argued “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information,” which he said could be used for espionage, blackmail, and to track Chinese nationals inside the US.

But cyber security specialists say the benefits to the ban are minimal and don’t solve any immediate threats.

The WeChat ban especially, they say, actually harms a large number of Chinese Americans, US-based Chinese, and businesses working with China, all for whom the app is essential to communications.

– ‘Data-sucking operation’ –

Both apps collect huge amounts of data on hundreds of millions of users.

An all-in-one tool, WeChat provides messaging, financial transactions, group chats, and social media, all of which is stored on Chinese servers that a 2017 security law says must be accessible by Chinese intelligence.

TikTok, a simple app for making and sharing short videos, meanwhile mines users’ accounts and phones for lots of identifying information.

“WeChat is bad,” said Nicholas Weaver, a lecturer in computer security at the University of California in Berkeley.

“It uses encrypted links to WeChat’s servers in China… but the servers see all messages, so the Chinese government can see any message it wants,” he said.

However, Weaver said, there few alternatives if you want to communicate widely with people in China, from inside or outside the country.

“So by banning WeChat, it is really about stopping US persons from being able to communicate with friends and relatives in China, which is an awful idea.”

As for TikTok, it is hardly different from popular US social media, he said, “a massive data-sucking operation.”

TikTok denies having provided data to the Chinese government, and says it would not do so if asked — but Weaver is doubtful of that claim.

“Of course the Chinese government can access that information, just as the US government can access any information collected by Facebook.”

None of that constitutes a particular security risk if people are aware, Weaver said.

The best approach, he said, “is not blanket bans but better policy and communication: Communicate to US business what the risks are, and configure government systems to avoid the risks.”

“This is so clearly a political rather than a security concern,” said Weaver.

“The real security threats — and they are real — are best addressed and have been addressed far more quietly,” he said.

– Tough on China –

As US intelligence said Friday that China is opposing Trump’s reelection in November, analysts saw the bans as motivated at least in part by the US leader’s desire to show he is taking a hard line on Beijing.

Adam Segal, director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, said neither WeChat or TikTok should be on the telephones of government officials due to the security risk — the argument invoked by the Republican-led Senate in voting to bar TikTok from government employees’ phones.

But a blanket ban “does not strike me as being an essential action to increase US cybersecurity,” Segal said.

Trump’s motivation “seems to be driven both by a sense of technological competition with the Chinese and his desire to show he is being tough on China in the runup to the election.”

Segal noted that the Trump administration doesn’t say what it expects from Beijing.

“They have very clearly laid out that we are going to compete with China and that we need to push back,” he said.

“But it is not clear what it is China is supposed to do or what behaviors we want to see.”

Related: Microsoft to Keep Exploring TikTok Deal After Talks With Trump

Related: TikTok and WeChat: Chinese Apps Dogged by Security Fears

Written By

AFP 2023

Click to comment

Daily Briefing Newsletter

Subscribe to the SecurityWeek Email Briefing to stay informed on the latest threats, trends, and technology, along with insightful columns from industry experts.

Join this webinar to learn best practices that organizations can use to improve both their resilience to new threats and their response times to incidents.

Register

Join this live webinar as we explore the potential security threats that can arise when third parties are granted access to a sensitive data or systems.

Register

Expert Insights

Related Content

Application Security

Cycode, a startup that provides solutions for protecting software source code, emerged from stealth mode on Tuesday with $4.6 million in seed funding.

Management & Strategy

SecurityWeek examines how a layoff-induced influx of experienced professionals into the job seeker market is affecting or might affect, the skills gap and recruitment...

Risk Management

The supply chain threat is directly linked to attack surface management, but the supply chain must be known and understood before it can be...

Funding/M&A

Twenty-one cybersecurity-related M&A deals were announced in December 2022.

Management & Strategy

Industry professionals comment on the recent disruption of the Hive ransomware operation and its hacking by law enforcement.

CISO Strategy

Cybersecurity-related risk is a top concern, so boards need to know they have the proper oversight in place. Even as first-timers, successful CISOs make...

CISO Strategy

SecurityWeek spoke with more than 300 cybersecurity experts to see what is bubbling beneath the surface, and examine how those evolving threats will present...

Management & Strategy

Tens of cybersecurity companies have announced cutting staff over the past year, in some cases significant portions of their global workforce.