It has been an interesting last year months for the Department of Defense, in terms of the scrutiny the agency applies to its purchases of information technology hardware. There have been documented reports of purchases of equipment with known security vulnerabilities, as well as signs that the military services are taking the risks from Chinese-made products seriously. The U.S. Navy and Army’s ban on their members using TikTok is a welcome step in the right direction and hopefully a harbinger of future decisions not only in the Pentagon, but the federal government as well.
TikTok, an app produced in China, has exploded in popularity over the last year. It allows users to share short videos set to music. This seemingly innocuous app could serve as a Trojan Horse for the Chinese government, with the nation state collecting information on US servicemen sharing videos on the social platform. While the company is adamant that it does not share personal data of users, we have reiterated over the past year that all Chinese companies are compelled by the nation’s intelligence law to share information if asked.
Last month, the Navy banned TikTok from government issued iPhones/iPads. Almost concurrently, the Army issued a directive to prohibit its use on government phones. Preventing the apps’ use will not diminish the capabilities of the Army or Navy; TikTok is a platform used for entertainment purposes, not to help our servicemembers accomplish their missions.
This welcome news comes on the heels of reports from last November on the Pentagon’s continued use of over 2,700 Hikivision and Dahua – both Chinese firms – cameras, despite a purchasing ban that went into effect in August. Last summer, the Pentagon’s Inspector documented over 9,000 purchases of Lenovo computers and Lexmark printers, despite “known cybersecurity risks.”
Hopefully the events of the last three weeks show the Defense Department will take Chinese tech threats seriously throughout 2020.