Chinese communist app could allow government to spy on users’ phones

Alibaba implicated in China’s Study the Great Nation app, which enables “backdoor” spying on 100 million users

An app developed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could enable the government in Beijing to spy on users’ phones.

“Study the Great Nation” (or “Xuexi Qiangguo” in Chinese) is an app that promotes Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s ideologies. It contains videos and articles about Xi’s ideology, as well as the ability for users to earn points by doing quizzes or commenting on pieces.

According to an analysis by the Open Technology Fund, earlier this year the Study the Great Nation app became the most downloaded app on the Chinese App Store, with the Chinese government claiming it now has more than 100 million users.

The Open Technology Fund contracted a German cyber security firm called Cure53 to forensically analyse the code of the app on Android phones in a process known as reverse engineering.

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Cure53 found code in the app “resembling a backdoor which is able to run arbitrary commands with superuser privileges”.

It also found that the app did contain a “backdoor” allowing a remote user to take control of the phone as if they were its owner.

The analysis also reveals that the packages that contain the backdoor code are all in the package namespace containing the values “aliyun and alibaba,” suggesting that these packages were created and are maintained by Alibaba or Alibaba Cloud.

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