Lithuanian Cybersecurity Center Accuse Chinese Smartphones of Carrying Built-in Censorship Capabilities

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In this file photo taken on Aug. 04, 2020, Prince, a member of the hacking group Red Hacker Alliance who refused to give his real name, uses a website that monitors global cyberattacks on his computer at their office in Dongguan, China's southern Guangdong province. - As the number of online devices surges and super-fast 5G connections roll out, record numbers of companies are offering up to seven-figure rewards to ethical hackers who can successfully attack their cybersecurity systems. (Image: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

The defense ministry of Lithuania has put out a statement recommending the public to avoid using mobile phones from Chinese manufacturers. The recommendation requested people to dispose of such phones in case they are currently using them. The statement came after a government report found that these devices carried built-in censorship capabilities.

After testing Chinese 5G phones, Lithuania’s state-run National Cyber Security Center, found that a Xiaomi phone came with censorship tools while a model from Huawei had security flaws. 

Xiaomi smartphones in Europe are capable of detecting and censoring terms such as “Free Tibet”, “Long live Taiwan independence” or “democracy movement,” according to the cybersecurity body. Huawei responded that no user data was being sent out by its devices. Xiaomi has likewise denied the charges.

“Xiaomi’s devices do not censor communications to or from its users. Xiaomi has never and will never restrict or block any personal behaviors of our smartphone users, such as searching, calling, web browsing, or the use of third-party communication software,” a Xiaomi spokeswoman told the BBC. She also added that the company is fully GDPR compliant. GDPR is the EU law on privacy and data protection.

However, the research conducted by the cybersecurity team has revealed that the tested Xiaomi device transferred encrypted phone usage data to a server based in Singapore. “This is important not only to Lithuania but to all countries which use Xiaomi equipment,” the center stated.

The concern over Chinese mobiles comes amidst a deteriorating relationship between Lithuania and China. 

Last month, China called for the withdrawal of Lithuania’s ambassador from Beijing after Taiwan declared that it would open a mission in the European nation that would officially be called the Taiwanese Representative Office. China also stated that it planned on recalling its envoy to Lithuania.

Taiwanese missions in Europe and the U.S. usually go by the name of Taipei city, to avoid a direct reference to the democratically run island, as Taiwan — officially known as the Republic of China — is not recognized as an independent country by the United Nations. U.S. National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, recently spoke with the Prime Minister of Lithuania and has emphasized that Washington would stand by the ROC as it faces increasing backlash from Beijing.

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