As neighbors India and China continue to be embroiled in a heated military stand-off which enters its sixth month, the countdown has officially begun for this month’s showdown talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
However, regardless of the outcome, New Delhi has taken all measures in its power to equip its armed forces with advanced weapons, special clothing, and other equipment to stand the best chance of thwarting the Chinese army if it eventually comes down to a winter war.
Now, with the French Rafales already parading the skies and the T-90 Bhishma and the T-72 tanks providing an impenetrable defense in the Ladakh region, there lies a chance that Beijing could resort to hacking into the Indian Army’s communications systems in order to sabotage their mission plans.
Well, the Indian Army has undertaken an extra step to ensure that does not happen and has launched an indigenous WhatsApp-like messaging application for its personnel to maintain its secrecy operations.
The app, which is called ‘Secure Application for Internet (SAI)’, has been designed by the Army’s Corps of Signals, which is the arm of the Indian Army which is responsible for handling its military communications.
SAI has been built exclusively for military usage and will provide the personnel a closed-high security network to issue timely mission information without the threat of sensitive military communications getting leaked to enemy agencies, especially in areas like eastern Ladakh and around the Kashmir Line of Control (LoC) border.
The application is yet another promising product of Prime Minister Modi’s “Make in India” initiative which encourages the development of defense equipment and technologies within the nation in a bid to lessen reliance on foreign nations.
The Indian Ministry of Defence released a statement regarding the app on the official website of the Press Bureau of India, which said,
“In the quest for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, the Indian Army has developed a simple and secure messaging application named the “Secure Application for Internet (SAI)”. The application supports end to end secure voice, text and video calling services for Android platform over the internet,”
The model is similar to commercially available messaging applications like Whatsapp, Telegram, SAMVAD and GIMS and utilizes end to end encryption messaging protocol. SAI scores over on security features with local in-house servers and coding which can be tweaked as per requirements.”
SAI has been vetted by an auditor impaneled by CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) along with the Army Cyber Group in charge of handling online operations for the force, with the process for filing the infrastructure on NIC and operations on the iOS platform currently underway.
The decision to introduce the app comes at the back of a series of breaches in the servers of the Facebook-owned WhatsApp Messenger, which is considered to be the widest used freeware, a cross-platform messaging app used in the world.
While known in the past to be one of the safest apps on smartphones due to its end-to-end encryption feature, the development of malware and the constant presence of hackers have led to increasing instances of information theft on the app.
According to a Japanese Cyber Security company called Trend Micro, the malware can be used to steal information in several forms.
“The malware is capable of stealing everything from a device which includes call logs, contacts, and personal messages. Moreover, data such as audio, video files, and photos stored on the device along with WhatsApp data can be accessed with this malware.” said a report in Trend Micro.
India which is locked in a battle with the Chinese cannot afford such a breach with the vital information key to stopping the exploits of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Earlier this year, the Army had updated a list of 89 apps included many Chinese ones, which were to be banned for use by military personnel. These apps included TikTok, WeChat, SHAREit, Zoom, CamScanner, PUBG, and Truecaller, besides Facebook and Instagram.
According to a senior Army official, apps built outside India pose a huge risk in leaking sensitive information to external parties. He said – “With a local app and in-house servers, critical messages can be securely sent without any fear of getting leaked.”