The Cabinet Division has reportedly directed the senior government and military officials to immediately replace their cell phones purchased before May 10, 2019, due to fears of data being stolen by foreign spy companies.
These instructions have been issued by the Secretary Cabinet to all concerned Ministries and Departments for strict compliance.
According to the letter sent by Secretary Cabinet, it has been reported that hostile intelligence agencies have developed technical capabilities and means to gain access to sensitive information stored in mobile phones of officials of government departments/ institutions and Ministries.
These spyware companies are using hacking software/applications such as “chat line” and “Pegasus” malware on WhatsApp of target mobile phones (iOS and Android) to gain access to sensitive information stored on them. The malware is capable to infect any mobile phone (iOS and Android) by generating missed calls on target WhatsApp numbers.
This “Pegasus” malware has infected approximately 1400 senior government and military officials in 20 countries including Pakistan. Hostile spyware companies such as Israel based NSO Group have been sued by WhatsApp/ Facebook in the US court of San Francisco for “violating both US and California law as well as WhatsApp terms of service,”
Although advisory on this issue has also been issued to all government departments/ Ministries by NTISB, Cabinet Division, in order to minimize the possibility of any infection by Pegasus malware, senior government officials holding sensitive portfolios/dealing with national security matters have been advised to consider following:
- No official/classified information be shared on WhatsApp or similar applications.
- WhatsApp should be updated to the latest version (version 2.19.112 for iOS and 2.19.308 for Android as of November 4, 2019).
- All mobile phones purchased prior to May 10, 2019, be immediately replaced.
A couple of months ago, the National Telecom & Information Technology Board (NTITB), Ministry of Information Technology had revealed that potential and intended threats to cybersecurity exist which pose a concern for national security.
The Ministry had proposed that smartphones are strictly forbidden in official meetings especially involving discussions on sensitive matters affecting security and no classified information be shared on WhatsApp or similar application is highly insecure.
The Ministry had further stated that the passage of sensitive/classified information via insecure email, plain fax, and any other insecure means should be discouraged.
CCTV networks installed at the sensitive locations should not be connected either on the internet or on cloud-based service. Their networks must remain standalone and isolated. Any ICT equipment/solution, especially of foreign origin/OEM for potential use in offices must be cleared from NITB.
Special care is exercised with respect to communication on smartphones near foreign missions compounds (cellular network be used), use of wifi hotspot, small TV devices, FTTH/ smart cable TV, NW printers/scanners and vehicles equipped with datacomm devices/onboard smart devices.
It was also directed that regular electronic sweeping of offices, residences, meeting/conference rooms against possible bugs should be ensured. Screening of gifts/souvenirs presented by visiting dignitaries be undertaken to rule out the presence of any bug. No official gift be placed in sensitive places without due clearance of the screening process.
They should have only Android One, Pixel or iOS devices.
And use Tutanota email
Messaging signal app, wickr me app
Government should provide all people with latest PIcel devices for security
There is need to develop our own OS, encrypted protocols and communication applications for government officials. Skilled manpower is available within country, government just need to provided financial support to such projects/program.
Pakistan being one of the Developing economies with rapid adoption of Cellular technology under GSM platform under the GSMA which progressed to the GSMA standards of LTE and 5G today. With support from the UN/ITU in telecomunications, spectrum management etc. Just see fast Huawei technologies launched HongMeng OS.
We have to understand behind the label of Free OS. The Linux OS is free and reliable, but we have to obtain a license. Windows 10 today has several issues, need download patch.
For the smart phone App., we have to review all safe OS likely adopted for fairly safe is Linux OS, HongMeng, and Android 10 or Above, duly monitored by the respective authorities for safe levels.
The security alert from the respective Governmental Authorities are very much on time, for usage of NTC network and cell phone should be used for Personal/Emergency communication in Pakistan till the time a poicy for safety security is established in collaboration with the UN/ITU, Geneva.
The Honorabe MOITT, the PTA, the NTC with civil, and defense authorities/agencies should establish a standardisation policy collaboration with PASHA, NUST, etc.
The wide spread use of cellular phone has created several serious issues well known to the respective authorities/agencies.
We can get welcoming support/hep from China leading brands as Huawei Technologies., which is undergoing difficult times with Corona Virus. Activity suspended due to wide spread virus.
At this difficult time Pakistan may offer help support from Huawei for the OS as HongMeng local Pakistan version with source code for local development. This would help support Huawei China for upgradation/customisation of Hong Meng licensing subject to co-operation between China/Pakistan. Best wishes to all.