In this blog, a Fivecast Tradecraft Lead examines both the recent Western Government response to TikTok and why the content available on the platform is so alarming to law enforcement and national security agencies.
The social media platform TikTok is virtually a household name, with over three billion users worldwide. However, as its usage grows, so do Western Governments’ concerns about the security threat it poses. Owned by a Chinese company and therefore subject to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) data access laws, there are mounting fears that TikTok’s ability to harvest data about its users represents a vulnerability for both communities and government agencies, particularly for those tasked with protecting national security.
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Is TikTok a National Security Risk?
Recently, according to Politico Magazine, the European Commission and Council of the EU banned staff from using TikTok over security concerns. This follows a string of similar bans in Australia, the UK, and the US, where various government agencies – particularly in the defense, national security, and law enforcement sectors – have banned staff from having TikTok on corporate devices amidst fears it could be used to surveil employees and access sensitive company data.
- In April 2023, the Australian Federal Government issued a ban under the Protective Security Policy Framework to prohibit the use of TikTok on devices issued by Government departments and agencies.
- In March 2023, the UK Parliament banned TikTok on all parliamentary devices and networks. This follows a fast-aborted pilot of the UK Parliament’s own TikTok account in August 2022, demonstrating just how quickly opinion has swung against the platform.
- As of March 2023, the US Federal Government and more than half of the US state governments had made similar bans.
- Back in 2020, the Indian Government banned the use of the platform completely, and TikTok withdrew from the market.
Although the true vulnerabilities and security risks associated with TikTok are debated (and fiercely contested by the company itself), many governments worldwide are clearly concerned about the data privacy implications posed by the app.
Risky content on TikTok
However, this is not the only reason governments should be concerned about TikTok. While content on the site primarily consists of short videos of jokes, pranks, dancing and other forms of light-hearted entertainment, there are growing concerns regarding the use of the app for nefarious and illegal activity.
A variety of threats emanate from TikTok’s over 3-billion-person user base, and the challenges faced by authorities charged with monitoring such activity are enormous. Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT) teams are required to cover the spectrum of illegal and nefarious activity publicly available on TikTok, including the promotion of child exploitation, sexual violence, human trafficking, drug use, financial scams, and political interference. What’s more, the content is readily available to – and even created by – minors. While TikTok is only one among many social media platforms that should be monitored for risky content, it’s an increasingly important one.
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Leveraging SOCMINT for TikTok
With huge volumes of data across the Surface, Deep and Dark Web – including a plethora of social media platforms, the task of monitoring and filtering publicly available information at scale is onerous and time-consuming for analysts. This is where Fivecast has an invaluable role to play.
For intelligence teams required to investigate nefarious content online – particularly on a platform where content is almost exclusively in video form – the ability to leverage an open-source intelligence tool with a proven capability of detecting risks within text, images, and videos is essential.
To discover why analysts and investigators in a variety of agencies and with a variety of missions need to understand a broad range of online platforms, including TikTok and the threats they pose, request the industry brief: