FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress on Tuesday he is “extremely concerned” that Beijing could weaponize data collected through TikTok, the wildly popular app owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.
Wray said during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on worldwide threats that application programming interfaces, or APIs, that ByteDance embeds in TikTok are a national security concern since Beijing could use them to “control data collection of millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm, which can be used for influence operations.”
In his opening remarks, Wray noted that while America faces cyberthreats from a variety of nations, “China’s fast hacking program is the world’s largest, and they have stolen more of Americans’ personal and business data than every other nation combined.”
Wray said the FBI has seen a surge in cybersecurity cases and as the numbers have increased so too has the complexity of the investigations. “We’re investigating over 100 different ransomware variants and each one of those with scores of victims as well as a whole host of other novel threats posed by both cybercriminals and nation-states alike.”
He said that APIs in TikTok could be harnessed by China to control software on millions of devices, meaning the Chinese government could conceivably technically compromise Americans’ personal devices.
Because Chinese companies are forced to “basically do whatever the Chinese government wants to do in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool of the Chinese government … that’s plenty of reason by itself to be extremely concerned” about TikTok and the larger threat posed by Chinese cyber aggression, he said.
Chinese cyber operations threaten the economic and national security of all Americans, according to Rep. John Katko, D-NY, the committee’s ranking member and a longtime advocate for cybersecurity issues in Congress. He told the committee that ransomware attacks cost businesses an estimated $1.2 billion last year.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid also testified on Tuesday.
Mayorkas said ransomware attacks targeting hospitals, pipelines, electric grids and water treatment plants have become commonplace.
Such operations “exploit the integrated global cyber ecosystem to sow discord, undermine democracy and erode trust in our institutions,” Mayorkas said. “In particular, China is using its technology to tilt the global playing field to its benefit.”