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Heading to China? You might be forced to install text-stealing malware on your phone

Tourists heading to China could be forced to hand over their phones - where authorities will install text-stealing malware. Source: Getty

Chinese border authorities have been secretly installing spyware on tourists’ phones and scanning over 73,000 files - as well as texts, phone logs and calendar entries.

Border police are targeting foreigners who enter the country through certain crossings in the Xinjiang region, and it’s where the Chinese government has been conducting some heavy surveillance of Muslim ethnic minority groups who live there.

According to The Guardianborder agents in the region have been requiring tourists to hand over their phones and passcodes before entering.

Then, the iPhones are plugged into a reader that scans them, while Android phones will have the app installed to do the same job.

Investigations found those entering the region from Kyrgyzstan or those using the remote Irkeshtam border were having their phones screened by guards.

In most cases, the app is uninstalled before the phone is returned to the tourist, but some travellers told The Guardian they found it on their phones after the investigation.

Tourists say they weren’t warned by authorities in advance, or told about what the software was looking for. They were also unaware of any information being taken and recorded from their phones.

Analysis of the software conducted by the publication found it was designed to upload information like emails on to a server at the border office, but it remains unclear where all the extracted information went, and for long it was stored.

Earlier this year, the US came under fire for requiring tourists to list their social media platforms in new visa application forms.

The update was touted to “improve national security screenings”, but civil rights unions called the plan “deeply problematic”.

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