Here is a first look at the NHS’s new coronavirus tracing app - and how it works

Tech experts were able to get an early view into the new COVID-19 app ahead of it going live in the UK.

A new app set to be used by the NHS to trace coronavirus exposure has been deemed “well-built” and “secure” by tech security firm Reincubate, which has gained early access to see how the app works.

Here is what they found.

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Does the NHS COVID-19 app store sensitive data?

A new app set to be used by the NHS to trace coronavirus exposure has been deemed “well-built” and “secure” by tech security firm Reincubate, which has gained early access to see how the app works.

No. The app is “very well put together”, according to Reincubate, and uses “sensible security practises, and without storage of unnecessary data.”

It revolves around a `linkingId` that gets generated for each install of the app. This ID persists across install of the app, so uninstalling and reinstalling it won’t reset the identifier.

Can users falsely self-report that they have COVID-19?

If a user reports symptoms, the app provides a number to call to arrange a test, along with a reference code.

The idea is that the test result is then associated with the user’s reference code.

Were a user to falsely report symptoms, confirmation would not happen without the NHS updating the test result to match the user’s code.

Does the app request location permissions?

No, it does not.

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Should “NHS COVID-19” be used at work?

No. The app actually prompts healthcare workers to disable Bluetooth on their devices whilst wearing PPE, stating “your interactions at work should not be captured when you are wearing personal protective equipment”.

“It remains very much in Apple’s control”

Aidan Fitzpatrick, Founder & CEO at Reincubate said: “We’ve been pleased to take a deeper dive into the NHS’s COVID-19 app.

“Whilst there’s been a lot of speculation around its functionality, what we’ve seen is a well-built and secure app. The background tracing appears to work, although it remains very much in Apple’s control as to whether this will continue to be effective.

“As a consequence, the effectiveness of the British response to COVID-19 is now also in Apple’s control.

“The choice to go it alone or use Apple’s framework will have been a challenging one.

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“Following Apple’s lead would likely have been a less controversial choice. However, iOS 13.5 is not live yet, whereas the British app ships tomorrow, and there’s nothing to stop the UK moving to follow Apple in subsequent updates.

“Seen through that lens – why not ship a trial in the Isle of Wight first?”

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