Whatsapp hacks and privacy concerns have been headlining in recent times. But, the latest cases of Jeff Bezos and Israel NSO spy technology are deeply alarming. If thousands of high-profile users, including someone like Bezos, can be vulnerable, then what’s even data security for a civilian. In light of these concerns, the Government of India is zeroing in on a panacea. It’s christened GIMS.
GIMS stands for Government Instant Messaging Service and is developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC).
Here’s what the official portal’s About section reads –
GIMS is the instant messaging platform for Government communication. GIMS platform provides GIMS mobile client for instant messaging and GIMS Portal for administration and monitoring of platform. Designed to suit the hierarchy and communication policies of the government. Adaptable to both the central and state government organizations for intra and inter organization communication.
This is reportedly Govt’s secure messaging platform to mitigate any privacy pitfalls, at least in official communications. In other words, this is said to act as a Whatsapp alternative for bureaucrats. This includes both Centre and State officials.
“There are strong discussions that for strategic and security reasons, over a period of time, we should have email, messaging…all sorts of systems, at least for government communication, which doesn’t depend on outside players,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “We need to make our communication insular. We should have some form of a Sarkari WhatsApp,” says a top official in an interview with the ET.
This push is also stating the ongoing Huawei-Google dilemma due to US-China trade tensions.
“Look what happened to Huawei, their Honor (branded) phones,” the official said. “It was unthinkable, but now it has definitely rung alarm bells with us. Tomorrow, if the US finds us unreliable for some reason, all they need to do is ask their companies to slow down networks in India and everything here will come to a standstill. We are vulnerable and we must take steps to cover that,” the official added.
So, this insinuates prospects going beyond just a switch from WhatsApp, but all foreign platforms such as Gmail.
Apparently, all the data would be stored on home servers.
“The app (GIMS) has been developed for both Android and iOS platforms and at present beta testing is going on. A total of 17 government organizations including the ministry of external affairs (MEA), ministry of home affairs (MHA), CBI, MeitY, Navy, and railways are participating in the testing. Currently, there are around 6,600 users who have generated close to 20 lakh messages,” an official shared with Financial Express.
Furthermore, Odisha and Gujarat are already taking part in the beta tests.
Recently, Jeff Bezos came forward alleging Saudi Arabia in his WhatsApp hack. Another report claims that UN Officials are prohibited from WhatsApping ever since June of 2019 cause of security concerns.
Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur remarks the recent events as “a wake-up call to the international community as a whole that we are facing a technology that is very difficult to track, extremely powerful and effective, and that is completely unregulated.”
The spyware industry is said to be worth 1 Billion USD whose clients include even Governments to keep a tap on its naysayers. Top Spywares like Pegasus and Galilio can be used to pry into the Whatsapp messages. Although Whatsapp employs industrial best Singal protocol for encryption. Bill Marczak, a cyber expert at Citizen Lab, enlightens the possibility of existing technologies for decrypting Whatsapp messages. But, the really shocking thing is that such hack-wares can be purchased for as low as $10 (~Rs. 713). And that’s something serious to think about.