TikTok has passed two billion downloads worldwide, and is used according to Ipsos daily by 15 percent of the population over the age of 18 in Norway. The video app is especially popular with young people, so if the survey had included those between the ages of 13 and 18, the number would probably have been higher.
– If I had worked with graded things, I would not have had TikTok on my mobile, says Gaute Wangen in the cyber security company Diriwhich has its origins in NTNU.
The reason can be summarized as follows: China.
Several of the most common apps on our phones have access to both camera and microphone. This applies, for example, to Instagram and TikTok. The latter still stands out. While Instagram is owned by a company in an allied country, the United States, TikTok is Chinese.
Nevertheless, there is no ban on using TikTok either in the Storting or in the Armed Forces.
Tom Røseth, who is an associate professor and head teacher in intelligence at the Norwegian Defense College, believes that we in Norway can have an overly naive relationship with China when it comes to cyber espionage.
– There is a risk of being naive. We think that this is an app that everyone uses. And Norway has proved naive before, by consider including Huawei in our 5G development. There was a long process before we stepped on the brakes. We have shown that we are gullible, says Røseth to TV 2.
In 2020 revealed the American professor Christopher Balding that a company with links to Chinese authorities collected information on millions of people from around the world, including more than 700 Norwegians.
Systematic cyber espionage
Chinese authorities are in on egg sides in ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok. The National Intelligence Act in China, internet companies are obliged to provide all the data required by the authorities – including data on servers outside China’s borders.
– The Chinese army has its own departments that work with cyber espionage and has worked systematically with this for many years. This is publicly known, says Gaute Wangen.
The security company Mandiant revealed in 2013, through the report Exposing One of China’s Cyber Espionage Unitsthat several hundred, maybe a thousand, people work in one of China’s cyber espionage units – and that there are over 20 such units.
– That report was like an earthquake in the cyber security world, Wangen believes.
In an imaginary – but perhaps a bit paranoid – scenario, your phone can be used to eavesdrop on people at the next table in a café.
– It’s not ridiculous to think so. There is a reason why if you go to the National Security Authority (NSM) or other secret services, you must leave your phone outside. This scenario is not probable, because it can be discovered, but that it is within the possible, yes, absolutely, says Wangen.
Tom Røseth agrees that this is technologically possible, but points out that he does not necessarily believe that China uses TikTok in cyber espionage.
– I think the market forces are helping to limit TikTok’s cooperation with the authorities. If TikTok is caught for something like that, the app will die very quickly. I think the threshold for doing this is very high. I also think that one will not risk blowing that capacity from the Chinese side unless it is very important or unless they manage to keep it hidden.
Cyber security is also a topic in the EU, as according to El Pais has set up a committee of inquiry to look into the use of the Israeli-developed spy program Pegasus after the governments of both Poland and Hungary admitted to having the program.
Pegasus is only available to public authorities and can be used to take control of a person’s mobile phone without them noticing.
In Spain, it was recently reported that Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s phone had been hacked by Pegasus.
Discouraged in Schibsted
In 2020, Schibsted warned all its employees, including journalists in VG and Aftenposten, against having TikTok on their work phones. However, the company did not introduce a ban. Egmont, which owns TV 2, issued a similar warning.
– In editorial environments – where there is a need for an extensive degree of consideration for source protection and sensitive information – it is the general advice to discourage this type of application, said communications director Camilla Kim Kielland in Schibsted to Media 24 that time.
In Sweden, the state channel has SVT banned their employees to have TikTok on their work phone. And in the US, Donald Trump tried to ban the app, before the judiciary put its foot down.
His successor Joe Biden has asked the trade and intelligence agencies to deliver reports about the risk apps that TikTok poses.
The Chinese embassy has been given the opportunity to comment on the allegations made in this article, but has not yet responded to TV 2’s inquiry. TikTok says according to Reuters that the company operates in accordance with the regulations in Europe.
– TikTok, like the other SoMe platforms, has responded quickly and well the times NSM has needed assistance, says information manager Trond Øvstedal in NSM to TV 2.
– People must be allowed to do as they please
Gaute Wangen in Diri understands that the Armed Forces and the intelligence service have not introduced a ban on TikTok.
– TikTok is a private company and a private app, and a very popular app. It is a step to take, to ban. People need to be made to do as they please. But it is possible to raise awareness about it, Wangen says to TV 2.
– It is probably a bit because there are strong restrictions on installing extra software on the Armed Forces’ equipment, so it should not be necessary to set such restrictions, Røseth explains.
– Should politicians have TikTok?
– I want to say no, on devices they use at work, says Wangen.