Information is knowledge and knowledge is the power to control the behaviour of people and events.
Irrespective of our profession, we have developed a strong dependency on smartphones for storing important, personal information. Contacts, location, financial details, important mails, and even our biometrics. This has created a pool of national data. We have made our smartphones literally a virtual extension of ourselves. It has also become a tool through which our own personal data stands exposed to exploitation.
Where India is one of the largest markets for smartphones, China has become one of the largest manufacturers of smartphones, given its abundant skilled labour force. Crucially, 16 out of 17 rare earth materials required for manufacturing a smartphone is available in China.
Since the smartphones are manufactured in China, their servers are also largely based there. All the confidential data saved on our expensive smart phones with various levels of security can easily be passed on to Chinese servers. Apart from the major brands, China is also producing local inexpensive smartphones that are exported worldwide. Even the customised servers of various companies are being manufactured in China. This opens up the possibility of some serious violations on a mass scale.
Last year, various reports were released in major newspapers about how data saved on smartphones was sent to Chinese servers. It was reported that smartphones manufactured in China had installed a “backdoor app” that leaked the data to third party without alerting the user.
Security breaches by China are not just limited to individual data for commercial purposes. Last month, Chinese hackers penetrated a high profile government meeting involving a video chat. As per reports, the satellite link was in control for almost 4-5 minutes before a counter offensive was launched to neutralise it. Though it could not be established that the hack was state-sponsored, its location was pretty clear. China.
It’s been reported that China is also selling stolen data to Pakistan, particularly ISIS and even terrorist outfits with an anti-India agenda. China has very carefully secured its own internal networking by setting up an impenetrable line of security around it.
Chinese products have flooded the Indian smartphone market, with Lenovo, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi together accounting for more than half of India’s sales in the first three months of this year. It’s an extraordinary rise from just 15 per cent last year, according to a report by India Ratings & Research (Ind-Ra).
We have done this before, but we need to make it categorical to the Chinese now. India should demand that Chinese smartphone makers co-operate with a security audit to check whether the data they have on Indian users is secure. According to a professor of strategic studies at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, Chinese technology companies employ practices that undercut the norms in democratic countries.
We must make ‘Make in India’ requirements very clear to the Chinese, who mostly use their own parts and only assemble them in India.