Australian government officials have been banned from using a major Chinese messaging app amidst security concerns.
The Department of Defence will no longer allow staff to use the WeChat app on Defence-issued devices, according to the Australian Financial Review.
"Defence does not provide or support the use of unauthorised software, including the WeChat social media application, on Defence mobile devices," the Department said in a statement.
It was also reported that instant messaging via Facebook Messenger is allowed by the Department, and there is currently a security investigation of WhatsApp underway. WhatsApp secures all messages with end-to-end encryption.
The AFR quoted one anonymous cyber security expert, linked to the government, who said, “applications like WeChat have a higher ability to aggregate and monitor data… they [Defence] would be very nervous about software being loaded onto a device which could then access a secure military network.”
The ban comes after FBI Director, Chris Way told a Senate Intelligence Committee that he did not trust Chinese-owned Huawei and ZTE phones and warned consumers to avoid them.
Since its development in 2011, WeChat has grown from a messaging app to an all-in-one portal, now allowing payments via WeChat Pay.
WeChat has almost 1 billion users, mostly based in China.
Its parent company, Tencent, recently became China’s first half-trillion-dollar company – with much of its success attributed to the Chinese Communist Party banning rivals such as Google and Facebook.
Although the Chinese government does not have an official share in Tencent, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that it is pushing Tencent to offer the state a stake in the business and a direct role in corporate decision-making.
In 2016, Amnesty International ranked global instant messaging apps and parent companies on how well they use encryption to protect online privacy.
Ranking each company out of 100, Tencent and WeChat received a score of 0.
“Not only did it fail to adequately meet any of the criteria, but it was the only company which has not stated publicly that it will not grant government requests to access encrypted messages by building a ‘backdoor,’” it said.
The top ranked company was Facebook, with its instant messaging apps Messenger and WhatsApp receiving a score of 73/100.