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Chat & privacy: Anyone can listen to Line

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Thai police claimed Line helps them listen to chat, then Line said not true... but no security in Line means anyone can listen to chatting anytime. 

Several months ago, a Line message warned about the Technology Crime Suppression Division's plan to trace the chat logs of people using the smartphone app. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)


Drawing the Line on spying on internet chat users

Don Sambandaraksa

Thai police claim that the popular instant messaging app Line is secretly helping them to gain access to chat logs. Naver, its creator, has denied helping them and said it had not received any requests from the Thai police. Both statements are very right, and yet are very, very wrong.

Line has left its security wide-open so that almost any state or telecommunication company could access full chat history with minimal effort.

Working with a communications network engineer we were both shocked and surprised when we saw not just the metadata, but entire conversations played out in plain text with no encryption at all for both 2G and 3G.

This would mean that anyone, from your telcos like AIS, Dtac or TrueMove to your ISP (CAT, TOT) to the cable carriers that link Thailand to Japan (probably via Malaysia and Singapore first), can all listen in and see your chats.

But that was not all.

We continued to look at the header metadata and it soon became clear Line was using a simple, easy-to-read format to communicate with the server in Japan.... We found out we could pull historical chat logs up to two months old just by changing a couple of parameters in the request

It must be stressed that this was done just from looking at the communication logs, the chatter between the Line app and the server that is not encrypted - and not from reverse engineering or even looking into the app itself, such is the lack of protection.

Anyone at your telco or cable company could listen in on your communications and see and copy the key....

Pol Maj-Gen Pisit was right when he said that Line secretly cooperates with Thai police - and in fact all authorities worldwide - in providing chat data through leaving this gaping back door wide open.

Line was right, too, in saying that the Thai police had not asked for help as obviously they did not need to. Both were right in what they said but both were so wrong in their deeds....

Don Sambandaraksa is technology writer at Telecom Asia and a former journalist with Database at the Bangkok Post.

Learn from listening

Click "play" to listen to Chat & privacy: Anyone can listen to Line and "Download" to keep this file for educational purpose.


access: having the opportunity to have or use something - มีโอกาสในการใช้

access: the opportunity or right to have or use something - โอกาสในการใช้ หรือ ได้รับสิทธิ์

application (app): a program designed to do a particular job; a piece of software - โปรแกรมใช้งาน, โปรแกรมคอมพิวเตอร์

authority: a person or government agency who has the power to make decisions or enforce the law - เจ้าหน้าที่ผู้มีอำนาจ

back door: "a backdoor in a computer system is a method of gaining entry to a computer system other than by normal login: "bypassing normal authentication, securing illegal remote access to a computer, ... while attempting to remain undetected" (Source: Wikipedia) - ประตูหลัง

cable carrier: the company that owns the underground and underwater cables (big wires) that carry the internet from place to place -

chatter: when people are talking continuously without stoppping - ที่พูดไม่หยุด

claim: saying that something is true although it has not been proved and other people may not believe it - ข้ออ้าง ข้อกล่าวหา

communicate: to express thoughts, feelings, or information to another person or animal, for example by speaking or writing - ติดต่อสื่อสาร

communications: the process of sending information through television, radio, and telephone signals - การสื่อสาร

conversation: when two or more people are talking about something - การสนทนา, การพูดคุย

couple: two - สอง

creator: a person who has made or invented a particular thing - ผู้ออกแบบ, เจ้าตำรับ, ผู้ประดิษฐ์

crime: an illegal activity or action - อาชญากรรม

Crime Suppression Division (CSD): a national police department responsible for conducting most of the technical investigations of criminal offenses - กองบังคับการปราบปราม

deed: something that someone does - การกระทำ

effort: an attempt to do something - ความพยายาม

encryption: when messages sent between use a secret code so that others cannot read the message - เปลี่ยนข้อความให้เป็นรหัส, การนำข้อความมาทำให้เป็นรหัส

format: the arrangement, design or organisation of something - รูปแบบ

header: the top part of some data or text -

lack of: when there is not enough of something - ขาด

log: an official record of events during a particular period of time - บันทึกข้อมูล

message: a piece of written or spoken information that you send to someone, especially when you cannot speak to them directly - ข่าวสาร, ข้อความ

metadata: a description of the information in a computer database, for example with the organization or format of the data - เมตะดาตา; ข้อมูลรายละเอียดที่อธิบายถึงความเป็นมาของข้อมูล หรืออธิบายข้อมูลหลัก [การจัดการความรู้]

minimal: very small in amount - น้อยที่สุด, น้อยมาก

network: a large system of connected parts, organisations, people, etc. - เครือข่าย

parameter: one of the numbers or settings that guides a computer program or app in doing its work - พารามิเตอร์, ชื่อที่ถูกอ้างถึงในส่วนหัวของฟังก์ชันหรือโปรแกรมย่อย ซึ่งจะถูกแทนที่ด้วยค่าที่ฟังก์ชันผู้เรียกส่งผ่านมาให้ ในขณะที่มีการเรียกใช้ฟังก์ชันหรือโปรแกรมย่อยนั้น

plain: ordinary; with nothing added - ธรรมดา

protection: the act of protecting somebody/something; the state of being protected - การอารักขา, การปกป้อง

request: an act of asking for something in a formal or polite way - การขอร้อง

request: to ask for something in a formal or polite way - ขอ, ขอร้อง

reverse engineering: taking apart something in order to figure out how it works and so you can make something that works the same way - วิศวกรรมย้อนรอย; วิธีการวิจัยศึกษาตรวจสอบสิ่งประดิษฐ์ หรือซอฟต์แวร์ เพื่อให้เกิดความเข้าใจเกี่ยวกับหน้าที่การทำงานส่วนประกอบ ตลอดจนกลไกในการดำเนินงานนั้น โดยมีวัตถุประสงค์ที่จะสร้างสิ่งประดิษฐ์ หรือซอฟต์แวร์นั้นขึ้นมาใหม่ โดยไม่ให้ผิดกฎหมายที่เกี่ยวกับการคุ้มครองทรัพย์สินทางปัญญา [คอมพิวเตอร์]

security: protection; safety from attack, harm, or damage - ความมั่นคง, ระบบรักษาความปลอดภั, ความปลอดภัย

server: computer hardware and software that performs some service for all the computers on a network - เครื่องบริการ, ตัวบริการ๒. โปรแกรมบริการ [คอมพิวเตอร์]

shocked: very surprised and upset - ตกใจ

spy: a person who secretly collects and reports information about the activities of another country or organisation - สายลับ, สายสืบ

statement: something that you say or write that gives information or an opinion - แถลงการณ์, คำแถลง

stress: to emphasise something such as an idea, fact or detail; to explain why something is important - เน้น

suppression: stopping an activity from happening, in this case, criminal activity  - การปราบปราม

telecommunications: the science and technology of sending information by telephone, radio, or television - โทรคมนาคม

trace: to follow the evidence to find out something - ตามรอย ตามทาง

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