LAHORE - Key security agencies have advised the government officials and top political figures not to install and play the Pokemon Go game on their cell phone and computer software over espionage fears.
The online gaming software, which has took the world by storm and is equally popular among the young and adults, has been banned in a number of countries for religious, political, security or other reasons.
But Russian cyber-security experts were probably the first who expressed serious concerns in July this year about the massive data collecting abilities of Pokemon Go and other such apps, even speculating whether they were specifically created by western security services as cyber-espionage tools.
In Pakistan, instead of slapping a national ban on this game, which can be downloaded on both iOS and Android devices, ‘technical sections’ of the key security agencies have prepared a security advisory concerning the electronic espionage and eavesdropping.
Sources in the intelligence services told The Nation yesterday that the advisory seeks thwarting electronic spying and sabotage activities, both at the offices and homes of top government and political officials, which could pose serious threats to national security.
The cell phones and computers of such officials are the very devices that are frequently used to discuss, and sometime even prepare and process, classified material, they said.
The advisory asks the officials not to download Pokemon Go on their devices from any source as a hidden feature of the game automatically turns on GPS/camera and records activities happening around.
The game, like many other apps, requires a valid email account for registration before download, and thus can also be used to hack the information from target emails.
The most vulnerable email service is Gmail, according to the advisory. The game has complete access to the email account and can read and modify emails, locations and contacts, it warned.
The advisory also asked all the recipients to report suspicious files, emails and any malicious activity on their cell phones and computers to relevant persons in their departments and offices coordinating with the experts of technical sections of the security agencies.
At least two members of the federal and Punjab cabinets confirmed the development but requested not to be named. All secretaries of ministries/divisions of federal government and PSO to Chief Secretaries of Provincial Governments have been forwarded the copy of the advisory, they told the paper.
Apart from Pokemon Go, certain other software used by the official quarters have also been banned, according to intelligence services sources, who did not reveal the names the software because of the sensitivity of the matter.
More than three software used on cell phones and computers are under investigation which have already been put out of the official business, they added.
Sharing some information on this count, they said some western secret services and Israel’s intelligence have been controlling certain electronic spying operations through front software developers by launching hidden files in the main software.
The main targeted countries of these operations include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, China, Russia, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and Sudan, they claimed.
The key electronic spying operations have been launched through the hidden files embedded in the software available on the internet for downloading even such famous social media networks as Facebook, twitter, Skype and others. The latest target is WhatsApp, they added.
Certain models of cell phones and laptops have also been under investigation, which according to the technical experts, carry in-built devices in the hardware for electronic spying. Some of the models of these electronic devices are quite popular in high circles of the country where ‘important information’ is discussed in informal meetings, the sources said.
Conspiracy theories have surrounded the game since its launch, declaring this game to advance the purposes of capitalism and world electronic market, but it’s probably for the first time that some country has took its cyber-espionage aspect so seriously.
Iran was the first country to ban Pokemon for civil security as the game leads the players even to enter dangerous spots. Saudi Arabia and Egypt banned the game for religious reasons, saying is addictive, encourages gambling and is the cause of polytheism. An Imam association in Turkey has also urged authorities to ban the game.
Bali state in Indonesia banned it because it prevented officials from doing their jobs. Australia is among the countries which have not yet banned Pokemon Go but their governments have negative attitudes towards it. Australia could ban the game in near future.