Sensitive information about the deployment of troops and their movement in military bases or spy outposts along the border with China may have been compromised by India’s COVID-19 tracker mobile application Aarogya Setu.
Aarogya Setu is designed by the government to collect one’s location data and cross reference it with the state-owned Indian Council of Medical Research’s database of COVID-19 tests to alert a user if an infected person is in close proximity.
“Through the app, one can see if a soldier using Arogya Setu is in a particular camp, or if he is going out to another camp or is being relocated or something like that. By constant measuring, you can see how many people have moved out of the camp and how many are within the camp at that time,” Raj Bhagat Palanichamy, an independent geographic information system (GIS)/remote sensing expert told Sputnik.
Alerting authorities, Raj shared an example of how Arogya Setu can be used to roughly detect numbers of people using the app (which may coincide with a number of troops) in sensitive areas like Pangong Tso where troops of India and China have been engaged in a bitter conflict since April this year.
Negative way: If we use a simple fake GPS application, then we can get number of Aarogya Setu users in and around militarily camps in sensitive areas like Pangong Tso— Raj Bhagat P #Mapper4Life (@rajbhagatt) September 6, 2020
(numbers and locations slightly adjusted) pic.twitter.com/2CGjSEPWnL
“If you are talking about the place where there is only military base, then there is no amount of technical expertise or hacking that is required. But, if you want to figure out which specific building etc., you have to do a little bit of math,” Raj Bhagat told Sputnik.
The Indian Army, while issuing an advisory in April this year, asked troops to install the Arogya Setu app and switch on location services and bluetooth while visiting public places, at Isolation Centres, when calling for COVID-19-related assistance by civil authorities and while moving out of cantonments or military stations. Army personnel had been cautioned in April not to disclose their service identity, including rank, appointment and contact list of users, while using such apps.
What does the Indian Army Say?
When Sputnik posed a query to a senior official about the matter, it has acknowledged that the application could be used to track the location of troops.
“We have taken care that troops deployed for forward posts should not use mobile phones. They are communicating through military communication devices. So, their movement or location will not be revealed to the adversaries through Aarogya Setu app,” a major general of the Indian Army told Sputnik on Monday.
The Indian Army official admitted, however, that movement from peace stations, and locations other than forward posts may be tracked. “Our troops patrolling in sensitive areas are not using mobile phones,” the official claimed.
Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged citizens to download the Aarogya Setu app, several experts have raised concerns over data privacy.
The 1.3 million-member Indian Army, periodically recommends its officers holding critical posts to sparingly use smartphones to prevent intelligence gathering by adversaries.