COP27 app allows Egypt’s regime to spy on climate change summit delegates

As the Egyptian government unveiled its official smartphone app COP27 amid the climate change summit in Sharm El Skeikh, experts started sounding the alarm: the app may be used to surveil delegates and hack the private information of top visiting officials.

Over 25,000 people gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh for the climate change summit on November 6, which will last until November 18. Among them are global leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, journalists, diplomats, environmental activists, and other high-profile figures.

Western security advisers are urging delegates against downloading the COP27 app created by the Egyptian government, which is meant to guide attendees through the event. Despite the warnings, it has already been accessed by over 5000 users.

Several independent experts have reviewed the app and found many vulnerabilities and security issues, highlighting the more-than-necessary number of permissions required to access it. As such, COP27 requests much information about the user, including access to emails, photos, locations, and microphones.

Fears rise that the app could even be used to hack private texts and voice conversations. Experts who had reviewed the app for POLITICO noted that it allows Egypt's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to scan peoples’ devices, while smartphones running Google's Android software give it added permission to listen in to users' conversations, even when the device is in sleep mode.

Although the collected data, forwarded to two servers, including one in Egypt, may be fairly standard, the overall political climate in the country, coupled with the high-profile level of attendees, poses serious security issues. Those who’ve already downloaded the app include German, French, and Canadian policymakers.

“It’s not the official UN application that’s the problem, it’s the one developed by the Egyptian government that bothers us,” Katharina Rall, a senior environment researcher at Human Rights Watch, said, also expressing concerns that the app is promoted on the official United Nations (UN) website for COP27 without prior verification.

Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s regime, which already holds an estimated 60,000 political prisoners, could use the information to furtherly surveil citizens and foreign officials.

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