The 1.3 million-strong Indian army on Thursday launched a made-in-India instant messaging app called SAI in a bid to safeguard internal communications from being leaked via foreign-developed messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, among others.
SAI is an acronym for “Secure Application for the Internet”, and the app claims to support secure end-to-end voice, text and video calling services online. As of now, the app is only available for Android devices. It will be utilised by Indian Army soldiers to facilitate secure messaging.
The app, which has been vetted by India’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) – a nodal agency tasked with protecting against cybersecurity threats – along with the Army Cyber Group, has been designed with a bundle of security features. The data collected by the app will be stored in local in-house servers in order to avoid being breached.
Faisal Kawoosa, the founder and chief analyst at Indian tech research firm techARC told Sputnik that creating apps like SAI is the right strategy to achieve security for apps which are usually the most vulnerable.
“We are obsessed with network level security and hardly talk and focus about app level security. For a holistic security we need app, device and network level security. Creating apps like SAI is the right strategy,” Kawoosa said.
Presently, processes for filing the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) for the app, hosting its infrastructure with the government’s IT support called the National Informatics Centre (NIC), and creating a version of it for iOS users in the military are in the works.
Soldiers Warned About Vulnerabilities
Earlier in March this year, in a video posted on Twitter, the Indian Army claimed that WhatsApp is the latest platform being used by Chinese hackers to spy on Indians.
"Chinese numbers starting with +86 (China's country code) barge into your groups and start extracting all the data," the Indian Army said.
In 2018, the Indian Army also asked its soldiers to avoid using a host of applications, including WhatsApp, that were deemed vulnerable to Chinese hackers.
The incident created ripples across the country, over 200 million people use WhatsApp – making it the app’s largest market worldwide.
Other popular social networking apps like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have also been found to have been breached time and again, putting user-data at severe risk of exploitation and crime. In addition, these companies have also been called out by governments of several nations, including India and the UK, for collecting their citizens' data without full transparency.
"Brilliant Move" as Data is New Warhead
The Indian Army's decision to launch a special messaging app exclusively for their internal communications has been welcomed warmly by Indian tech and security analysts.
“With Data being the new warhead, the Indian Army’s decision to make its application for internal communication is not only a brilliant move as it helps the Army to keep the private and confidential data away from prying eyes but also puts the Army in the category of select few globally that use their own communication application,” senior cyber security expert Jitendra Soni told Sputnik.
Soni also said that “third-party apps are not only insecure, but they have also been found to tracking users and even recording the audio from the phones’ mic, hence an app with all the latest features like the end to end encryption, voice and video calls apart from being able to text messages, this app makes the national army self-reliant.”
Earlier in September, India’s Minister of Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad revealed that out of nearly 7,000 Indian-made apps that reached the government for review, 24 have been carefully handpicked for their potential to go global.