Govt may ban FaceApp for armed forces and paramilitary personnel

Topics security | Cyber threat

FaceApp versions of cricketer Virat Kohli, US President Donald Trump and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg
Concerned about the possibility of the popular FaceApp storing pictures from one’s smartphone, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is planning on asking all security personnel to abjure from downloading the popular app.

On Thursday, #FaceAppchallenge was trending on Twitter. Those participating had to download the app, based out of Russia, on their smartphones. It used an artificial intelligence-based imaging tool and required a user to upload a picture. Then the app changed the picture to make a person look young or old, change gender, or the expression. Later in the day, concerns were raised about how the app was plumbing data from one’s phone. The government is still trying to figure out what security implications this app has. A senior MHA official, however, said the FaceApp allegedly took access to all the pictures in the gallery of a phone, causing security risks as armed forces or paramilitary personnel along with personal pictures might have some images and information that could be deemed sensitive. “We are still trying to understand if such apps can cause any data leaks.

Till we are sure, it is better that security personnel stay away from them. We are planning to send out a directive on this as soon as possible. We have had informal discussions on this already with some high-ranking officials in the armed forces,” said a senior official at the MHA.

Even though the app has been around since 2017, FaceApp has recently gained popularity after several celebrities and social media influencers began sharing the pictures on social media.

In the past few weeks, the MHA has been proactively looking at all cybersecurity as well as social media-related issues. A 24-page home ministry note, titled “Information Security Best Practices”, sent to all ministries last week covers several issues about being safe online.

The note advises government officials to not access social media on any official device or disclose their official information. Describing social engineering as “conscious manipulation of people to obtain information without realising that a security breach is occurring”, the note has advised officials to be careful about unsolicited phone calls, visits or emails.

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