Why did VLC media player get banned in India?

India quietly banned VLC media player, reportedly because of infiltration of app by a Chinese hacker group.

Highlights
  • VLC media player was banned in India months ago, website still shows “blocked.”
  • The reason, though officially unknown, is rumoured to be due to a possible attack by a China-based hacker group.
  • Cyber security researchers claim Indians were among victims of cyber attacks using VLC.

The Paris-based VideoLAN developed VLC media player was banned by the Indian Government a couple of months ago, though it only recently came to light. The website displays a notice that says “blocked as per order of the Ministry of Electronics and Information technology under IT Act, 2000,” although the ban has not yet been officially announced by the government.

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Rumours are that the government has identified potential links between the Paris-based app with China-based hacking group Cicada which is claimed to be backed by the Chinese government. Cicada apparently uses the VLC to install malicious malware on one’s computer to hack it. This reason comes in wake of the many bans that the Indian government has recently imposed on various apps like TikTok, WeChat, PUBG, etc., due to national security. 

Moreover, the Cyber security researchers at Symantec have claimed India, US, Canada, Israel, Hong Kong, and several other countries as the victims of Cicada attacks. And as a matter of fact, Cicada did attack several countries in April this year.

As per Jean-Baptiste Kemp, the President of VideoLAN and owner of VLC, the website was banned by India on February 13 and since then they are unaware of the possible reason behind the ban. Kemp added how the Indian government hasn’t replied yet despite the company’s official tweet seeking help.

Is VLC still accessible in India?

VLC, a cross-platform media player and an Open Source Software was launched in 2001 for the first time and since then has been a global hit. Today, the app stands banned in India. Although, the old users with the already installed software are still able to use it.

VideoLAN replied to a similar question asked over Twitter by stating that it is because VLC can work without servers and once you have installed it, you will not need servers again. It also went a step ahead and mentioned explicitly “we don’t collect info, we don’t require user accounts, we don’t spy on people.” The new users however cannot download it anymore.

Many netizens are criticising this move by the government as VLC is an Open Source Software (a publicly available code) and banning it doesn’t make sense to them. However, Kemp added that since there are variations with ISPs (Internet Service Providers) where some are blocking them and some are not, it could mean that this might be due to a misunderstanding concerning the Chinese security issue.

VideoLAN is still awaiting a reply from the Indian government regarding the same.