FBI Warns Of FaceApp ‘Counterintelligence Threat’

Governement-ITMobile AppsMobilityRegulationSmartphonesSurveillance-IT

Russian connection over app that ages people’s faces, results in FBI issuing an official warning of its ‘counterintelligence threat’

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued a national security warning about a photo manipulation app called FaceApp.

In July US Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer called for a national security and privacy investigation into FaceApp, in a letter sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray and FTC Chairman Joe Simons.

His concern centred around the fact that the face-editing photo app was developed in Russia, and that it requires “full and irrevocable access to their personal photos and data.”

taking selfie

National security

Senator Schumer said that this could pose “national security and privacy risks for millions of US citizens.”

And now nearly five months later it seems the FBI has finally responded with an official warning about the app.

Senator Schumer tweeted the FBI letter, in which it warned any app or product developed in Russia like FaceApp is a potential counterintelligence threat.

It should be noted that there is no evidence that FaceApp actually provides user data to the Russian government.

Indeed, the developer of the app, St Petersburg company Wireless Lab, has reportedly denied selling or sharing user data with third parties, adding that user data is never transferred to Russia and most images are deleted from its servers within 48 hours of submission.

But iOS users of the app have reported that the app appears to override settings if a user had denied access to their camera roll.

Even when that option is selected, people have reportedly said they could still select and upload a photo.

FBI warning

And the FBI letter said Moscow’s ability to access communications directly via internet service providers makes any app developed in Russia a risky proposition.

“The FBI considers any mobile application or similar product developed in Russia, such as FaceApp, to be a potential counterintelligence threat, based on the data the product collects, its privacy and terms of use policies, and the legal mechanisms available to the government of Russia, that permits access to data within Russia’s borders ” the FBI letter warned.

It said that Russian intelligence services maintain “robust cyber exploitation capabilities”, and users of the app are putting themselves at risk, as the Russian government and the FSB “can remotely access all communications and servers on Russian networks without making a request to ISPs.”

US concerns

The concern about foreign (particularly Russian and Chinese) companies posing a risk to US interests should not be under-estimated.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) was famously hacked during the Presidential elections in 2016.

The US government at the time accused the Russian government of involvement in the hack and expelled a large number of its diplomats.

The DNC has this year apparently sent out an alert to the party’s 2020 presidential candidates, warning them against using the app, highlighting its Russian provenance.

And recently, American lawmakers have taken aim at TikTok, a video-sharing platform owned by China’s ByteDance.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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