Australia's Department of Defence has banned its officials from using Chinese social media app WeChat

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  • Defence officials banned from using one of the world’s largest social media apps
  • It follows the ‘phasing out’ of Chinese mobile phone brands Huawei and ZTE
  • The WeChat ban comes as it undergoes a ‘security assessment’

Australia’s Department of Defence has banned employees from using one of the world’s largest social media apps, WeChat.

The ban was first reported in the Australian Financial Review, with the Australian Defence Department confirming it did allow “limited use of Facebook, but not WeChat”.

The app, which has more than one billion users, is undergoing a security assessment. Until it is cleared, it is not allowed on any official’s mobile device.

The ban follows the Department of Defence confirming to Business Insider just a fortnight ago that it no longer uses any Huawei phones and is retiring its ZTE mobiles.

The Chinese brands had just been named in a US Senate Intelligence Committee report from the FBI as an espionage concern, given they were owned by companies that were “beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values” and could be used to “gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks“.

Huawei was founded by former People’s Liberation Army engineer Ren Zhengfei. In 2012, it was banned from participating in Australia’s NBN project over security concerns.

However, the Australian Department of Defence said the mobile phones “do not pose a security risk for Defence” and were simply being replaced as they aged and failed.

It’s unclear whether the WeChat ban on Australian Defence officials is in place due to concerns about espionage activity, or whether the app is seemed deemed to be not secure enough.

Both courses of action have taken place after an October report from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation that warned Australia was the target of “espionage and foreign interference”.

WeChat has been dogged by security issues ever since its inception in 2011, and even Chinese authorities aren’t comfortable with the way its location-reporting and anonymity features can be abused.

But there is little doubt that those in charge of China’s internal security – police known as guobao – are also able to access user accounts.

That was most prominently highlighted by dissident artist Hu Jia, who claims guobao “were able to quote messages that he had sent via the service verbatim”.

WeChat and other Chinese apps were banned for use by the Indian Defence Ministry in December.

The Australian Defence Department is yet to respond to Business Insider regarding why WeChat has been singled out for the ban, or when and under what circumstances it could be lifted.

It told the AFR that: “Defence does not provide or support the use of unauthorised software, including the WeChat social media application, on Defence mobile devices.”

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