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Patanjali's Kimbho swiftly retreats over security scare, ripped on Twitter

by Admin — last modified Jun 01, 2018 02:15 PM
Swadeshi" messaging app targeted at WhatsApp taken off from app stores hours after launch.

The article by Alnoor Peermohamed and Manavi Kapur was published in the Business Standard on May 31, 2018. Gurshabad Grover was quoted.

The fate of Patanjali’s “swadeshi” instant messaging app Kimbho was sealed in the span of just a few hours, thanks to viral messages being shared on Facebook-owned WhatsApp, the app that the Baba Ramdev-promoted company was trying to combat.

on Thursday launched Kimbho with the sole intent of checking the rise of messaging giant in India. However, after Kimbho’s various data vulnerabilities were exposed by the security expert and whistleblower who goes by the pseudonym Elliot Alderson on Twitter, the app made a quiet exit from Google’s Play Store.

Jokes surrounding the app’s quick retreat spread like wildfire on rival platform  It was perhaps the quickest rise and fall in the popularity of a mobile application.

Alderson, who has exposed data breaches in the UIDAI’s website, took to Twitter to rip apart the  “This @KimbhoApp is a joke, next time before making press statements, hire competent developers... If it is not clear, for the moment don't install this app,” he wrote. His next tweet sent alarm bells ringing among users: “The #Kimbho #android #app is a security disaster. I can access the messages of all the users...”

Kimbho, though, claims that every message on its platform is encrypted by the Advance Encryption Standard and that it saves “no data on our servers or cloud”. But Alderson pointed out that the one-time password security could be worked around. “It's possible to choose a security code between 0001 and 9999 and send it to the number of your choice,” he tweeted. Kimbho, explained as a Sanskrit greeting by S K Tijarawala, Ramdev’s spokerperson, on Twitter, is also a patched-up application over the existing Bolo messaging app.

This is most likely the reason the app was taken off the Google Play Store. “There were basic authentication and authorisation related vulnerabilities where an end user can see the data of other users. These flaws may be the reason the developers took down the app. Google flags such things,” said Anand Prakash, a Bengaluru-based ethical hacker.

uses end-to-end encryption that essentially means even they can’t access the messages you send. But Kimbho, on the other hand, was not using end-to-end security and probably even saving every message as plain text on its server,” adds Gurshabad Grover, policy officer at the Centre for Internet and Society.

Google did not respond to queries about whether the developer took the app down or Google flagged it as unsecure. Kimbho declared on its Twitter handle that its app was removed from the Play Store because of heavy traffic, claiming that it was downloaded 150,000 times in a mere three hours since its launch.

On Apple’s App Store, it was trending in the social networking category at the fourth position in India, just below WhatsApp, Facebook and Facebook’s Messenger, and above popular messaging apps such as Skype, LinkedIn and hike messenger.

Tijarawala had announced Kimbho’s launch on Twitter, calling it an app developed by the “shishyas” (disciples) and “navdikshit sadhus” (newly ordained priests) of Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna, managing director, Ayurved and co-founder, Yogpeeth in Haridwar. Tijarawala’s tweet also claimed that this app was built using “swadeshi” techniques, though what these are remains a mystery. Emails, text messages and calls to Tijarawala went unanswered.

In keeping with an “Indian” aesthetic, the app’s logo has a “shankh” (conch shell), perhaps signifying a war cry against foreign-born WhatsApp, which has over 200 million active users in India. The conch shell also blends well with Kimbho’s tag line, “Ab Bharat Bolega” (now India will speak). But that is where its tenuous Indianness begins to crumble.

While the app was registered as a product of on the Play Store, the developer on Apple’s App Store is Appdios Inc, a San Francisco-based app development company. Aditi Kamal and Sumit Kumar are this company’s founders according to LinkedIn. The duo has worked with technology giants such as Google and Apple and hold masters degrees from University of Southern California in the US. A blonde man features on the screenshots that the app has featured on its landing page on the App Store.

Taking forward Bolo’s keyboard suggestions, cheekily called “Quickies”, Kimbho offers pre-typed messages such as “hugs and kisses”, “what the heck” and “parents are watching”. Whether these millennial-friendly features and Kimbho itself are an attempt to get young millennials in touch with their “swadeshi” roots remains to be seen.