Telegram messaging app compromised by Russia, NATO official warns

Popular messaging tool described as “central focal point for Russian disinformation.”

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

Telegram, the widely-used messaging app, has been compromised by Russia, according to a NATO assessment reported by the Washington Examiner on Monday.

“Telegram is not really as it used to be,” Janis Sarts, the director of NATO’s Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in Riga, Latvia, told the Examiner. “I do have reasons to believe that there is not full integrity. … Certainly, I would not see it as a secure platform.”

Sarts said his concerns were with the reliability of Telegram’s encryption, without going into detail. He also said the app carries a high risk of Russian disinformation. “The integrity of that platform is under the question, from my perspective,” he said.

The messaging service, which has 700 million monthly users, has become a key platform for Ukrainians and Russians to both receive and disseminate info about the fighting in Ukraine.

Sarts described Telegram as “central focal point for Russian disinformation.”

“That is how [Russian authorities] circumvent the blocks that the Facebooks, Instagrams, and others have made. So they operate through the Telegram groups and use them then to post the material [on] all other social media platforms,” he said.

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Telegram was launched by Russian brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov. The two founded Russia’s popular social network, VK, but left the country in 2014 saying VK had been taken over by cronies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The brothers obtained citizenship in the United Arab Emirates, where they founded Telegram.

Telegram is registered in British Virgin Islands but it operations are based in Dubai.

It is currently blocked in Iran and China, and was blocked in Russia in 2018-2021.

Telegram spokesman Remi Vaughn told the Examiner, “Telegram has never had a partnership in any form with the Russian government,” stressing that the company had already been banned by Moscow.

On a related note, Buzzfeed reported on Friday, Chinese engineers working for TikTok’s parent company, Byte Dance, were able to repeatedly access data about millions of U.S. users of the video platform. The report was based on leaked audio tapes of internal TikTok meetings.

Byte Dance is headquartered in Beijing.

In 2020, the Trump administration threatened to ban TikTok over concerns that China would collect data on millions of Americans. TikTok’s data is stored in the U.S.