As you may have seen in the past couple of weeks, our federal and state governments are clamoring to ban TikTok at government offices.
In 2017, the Chinese government passed a law called the National Intelligence Law of the People’s Republic of China (catchy name) requiring all Chinese companies to share data and assist with intelligence gathering (skip to espionage, article 7 of NILPRC).
That law is scary stuff, campers; enough of a reason for people to avoid Tik Tok and other apps owned by Chinese firms.
According to my 2020 column on TikTok, our military banned the social media app in 2019 and we should have followed their lead long ago.
Let’s review some of the negatives of the app:
Over 1 billion users use the platform. Its reach is massive and used for launching malware, as seen in the Invisible Body Image Challenge.
This challenge involves making their body appear see-through. I don’t really follow any of it, as I am an old person now, but after the challenge — the hackers made their move.
They posted that they had a tool to remove the silhouette. Once you download their tool it goes to work stealing your passwords, credit cards and anything it can find on your machine.
That situation may be bothersome, but there are bigger issues with TikTok.
Data gathering is the main point of contention with the app. Why does a video-sharing app need to gather data (besides the basics)? Does a dance app need your search history, email, and content of your messaging on its platform?
They say it is about targeted advertising, but they could use the info for anything. The almighty algorithm and what does is recommend and tells you to do, watch, buy, etc.
Anything else? Sure, how about when TikTok was used for violence against those that work in schools?
Our leaders are trying to avoid another Internet Research Agency situation as in the 2016 election. During that time, the Russians played all sides (and the middle) against each other on social platforms.
We were the ultimate online suckers then. And now, as we are so sensitive and get worked up instantly over posts, what if the platform were to be used to spread misinformation.
Are states doing the right thing to try and ban the app?
As I told WCTV in Tallahassee this week, yes, 100%. But this is just part of the problem.
If you work at the state or federal level, doing anything remotely important, you should not be allowed to bring a phone to work at all. It should be put in a lockbox each day/ Phones are tracking devices, monitoring tools, time wasters and an attractive nuisance for important workers. You should not be on social media (of any kind) during work hours unless that is part of your job either. I sound like a fun boss, right? Plus, taking these steps still only lowers your risk of a cyber incident. There is no silver bullet.
Let’s now review the positives of the platform also. Yay, dance videos. The end.
Social engineering and data scraping from the web is a fundamental tool for hackers and spies. If TikTok is in cahoots with the Chinese government as alleged — or required by Chinese law — we are taking away the hard part of hacking by letting them just take our data.
It is a dogfight out there; time to pull the plug on TikTok as our armed forces did long ago.
At the Federal level, a Florida elected official is trying to do just that. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is leading the charge on a bipartisan piece of legislation to ban the app.
What else changed? Why now, as we have not heard much about TikTok lately?
Chinese hackers have upped their game, flexing their cyber muscles after successfully stealing money from the U.S. government via COVID-19 relief dollars. The hacking group APT41, also known as Wicked Panda, was allegedly behind the theft of millions of dollars of those funds.
So, we have a black eye as a global power, and that’s what changed.
The powers that be are scrambling for a response and attempting to show their strength after these bad optics.
Banning TikTok won’t be enough to stop the Chinese from their next move, but it will take a digital tool out of their arsenal.
And that is a step in the right direction.
Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at [email protected].