Lithuania Finds Security Issues with Some Chinese Smartphones

Lithuanian Flag on the side of a building on a black background

A Lithuanian Government report says there are certain cybersecurity and censorship risks with Huawei and Xiaomi 5G smartphones. The country’s National Cyber Security Center found four major issues with the devices. The report states that the Xiaomi device can detect and censor phrases such as “Long live Taiwan independence” and “Free Tibet.”

Lithuania’s Deputy Defense Minister strongly recommends state and public institutions abandon the flagged devices. He also stated that the government plans on introducing legislation which “regulates acquiring certain devices for the ministries and various state agencies.”

Cybersecurity and Censorship Concerns

The report says that the Huawei P40 and Xiaomi Mi 10 5G smartphones contain built-in cybersecurity and censorship risks. It says the Xiaomi device is able to detect and censor up to 449 terms on its system apps, including the built-in browser. This includes phrases such as “Free Tibet,” “Long live Taiwan independence” and “democracy movement.”

The report warns that while this feature is turned off in Europe, it could be activated remotely at any time. The device also has data privacy risks, as the report found it was transferring encrypted phone usage data to a server in Singapore.

The Huawei p40 has its own cybersecurity concerns. Its official app store, AppGallery, sends users to third-party e-stores, where some applications are malicious or infected with viruses.

The Center also examined a OnePlus 5G phone as part of its study. However, it found that it did not have any of the issues that were found in the Huawei and Xiaomi devices.

Defense Ministry Wary of Chinese Equipment

Lithuanian Deputy Defense Minister, Margiris Abukevicius, urged the country’s public institutions to abandon the devices. He added that the government should regulate the acquisition of devices for ministries and state agencies.

Abukevicius said that over 200 public authorities have bought the concerned devices, with more than 4500 in use. The investigation was carried out to “ensure the safe use of 5G mobile devices sold in our country and the software they contain,” he added.

Xiaomi and Huawei’s Response

Both Xiaomi and Huawei are big players in the global smartphone market. Xiaomi is widely known for its affordable models. It is the second most popular device manufacturer by sales this year, trailing only Samsung. It witnessed a 64% rise in revenue in its second quarter compared to last year.

In response to the report, a company spokeswoman said, “Xiaomi’s devices do not censor communications to or from its users.”

“Xiaomi has never and will never restrict or block any personal behaviors of our smartphone users, such as searching, calling, web browsing, or the use of third-party communication software,” she added.

Huawei issued a response to clarify its data processing practices. A company spokesman said that it abides by the laws and regulations of every region, and prioritizes cybersecurity and privacy.

With respect to AppGallery, he said, “AppGallery only collects and processes the data necessary to allow its customers to search, install and manage third-party apps, in the same way as other app stores.”

Technology policy researcher
Prateek is a technology policy researcher with a background in law. His areas of interest include data protection, privacy, digital currencies, and digital literacy. Outside of his research interests, Prateek is an avid reader and is engaged in projects on sustainable farming practices in India.