An application specifically aimed at users in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but also installed heavily in other parts of the world, including the United States, has been flagged as a spy tool by the US intelligence.
Apple has removed the popular ToTok chat app from the App Store after a New York Times report said that the app was used by the United Arab Emirates as a spy tool.
The messaging app was published in Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store in late July, but it rapidly became one of the most popular apps in the UAE. The positive reviews and the always-growing number of downloads and ratings convinced many to give it a try, especially in a country where similar apps, including WhatsApp and Skype, are completely banned.
The company behind ToTok, Breej Holdings, is claimed to be a front company for DarkMatter Group, an Abu Dhabi-based cybersecurity firm run by UAE intelligence officials along with former U.S. National Security Agency and Israeli military operatives. Websites approved by DarkMatter were blacklisted by Google in August after it was reported that the company was involved in hacking operations.
“You don’t need to hack people to spy on them if you can get people to willingly download this app to their phone. By uploading contacts, video chats, location, what more intelligence do you need?” said security researcher Patrick Wardle, who performed a forensic analysis of ToTok.
The claims leveled against ToTok by the New York Times involve unnamed “American officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment” but concrete proof has yet to be provided. Neither the UAE Government, Breej, DarkMatter, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, nor the Federal Bureau of Investigation have commented as of the time of writing.
While Apple and Google have removed ToTok from their app stores, it can still be used by those who’ve already downloaded it.