UK spy agency GCHQ tells lawmakers using video conferencing app “not use it to talk about things detrimental to the interests of China.”
British lawmakers and government officials have been told not to use the video conferencing platform Zoom due to concerns over Chinese surveillance, the London-based newspaper Guardian reported on Friday. The UK intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), cautioned them against using the web-based service for official or confidential matters — especially if they relate to China. The top British Intelligence service specifically warned the senior Members of Parliament “not use it to talk about things detrimental to the interests of China,” the daily added.
The revelation comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been using the video conferencing service to hold Cabinet meetings in the wake of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, the BBC recently reported. In the United States, too, the service was still being used by military and government officials, recent news reports confirm.
Zoom, a Silicon Valley company, is run by entities based in China, making its platform vulnerable to espionage by Communist China. The company was “transmitting information through China,” the BBC reported citing British cyber security experts. This redirection of web traffic opens up the users to Chinese surveillance.
The video-call app gained popularity among government, academic, and corporate users in the wake of worldwide lockdowns and disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, taking the number of daily users from a mere 10 million back in December to 300 million, the company figures claim.
The UK newspaper Guardian reported the intelligence agency GCHQ’s warning:
Government and parliament were told by the intelligence agencies last week not to use the videoconferencing service Zoom for confidential business, due to fears it could be vulnerable to Chinese surveillance.
The quiet warnings to limit the technology came after the cabinet had used Zoom to hold a well-publicised meeting at the end of March, a decision that was defended at the time as necessary in “unprecedented circumstances”.
Parliament was advised last week by the National Cyber Security Centre, part of intelligence agency GCHQ, that Zoom should only be used for public business.
A parliamentary source said those involved were advised Zoom ought not be used for classified business and there was an explicit warning from NCSC “not use it to talk about things detrimental to the interests of China”.
But the warning was only shown to people directly engaged in the negotiations, and not shared more widely with MPs, including members of the foreign or other select committees who may want to conduct inquiries into China-related matters.
Senior parliamentary figures were also told that Zoom was safe to use for public business, and the technology was this week used as part of the proceedings in the House of Commons, including at prime minister’s questions.
The FBI has also warned about cyber security concerns surrounding the platform. The hackers could use the app to “steal sensitive information, target individuals and businesses performing financial transactions, and engage in extortion,” the agency cautioned earlier this month.
Researchers at the University of Toronto uncovered that Zoom’s encryption keys were issued by Chinese servers “even when call participants were outside of China,” thereby making them vulnerable to Beijing’s surveillance, the Business Insider magazine reported. Following these alarming reports, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan admitted routing “some calls” made in North America through China “by mistake.”
The revelation once again highlight Communist China’s growing government and corporate spying activities across the world. In recent years, Beijing has perfected cyber espionage as a preferred tool for gathering information on its geopolitical rivals and appears to be bridging the technology gap by spying on foreign firms. According to a U.S. Justice Department report in 2018, China was behind 90 percent of all economic espionage cases handled by the agency. The West’s increasing dependence on China-based technology service providers makes it more and more vulnerable to Beijing’s spy operations.
FBI warns about Zoom privacy concerns
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