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iPhone hacking sites that Google found apparently went after too many Android and Windows users



Photo by Jenny Kane (AP)

earlier this week, more than just iPhone users have apparently passed. According to Forbes, Microsoft's operating system, along with Google's own, were also focused on what some reports call a state-backed effort to spy on the Uighur ethnic group in China.

The Google Threat Analysis team was the first to launch the scheme earlier this year (campaign news was first revealed on Thursday). It included a small group of websites designed to infect visitors' devices to gain access to their personal information, including live location data and encrypted application information such as WhatsApp, iMessage and Telegram. These websites were for two years, during which thousands of visitors were supposedly accessing each week.

In February, Google notified Apple of 14 vulnerabilities exploited by malware on the site, which the company corrected within days with iOS 12.1.4. In this update, Apple revealed that deficiencies called "corruption issues" have been corrected by "improved sign-in verification." The company has not publicly addressed the Google account for the hack since news broke earlier this week.

While the Google team only reported that iPhone users were targeted by this attack, sources familiar with the matter told Forbes that devices using Google and Microsoft operating systems were also targeted at the same sites. This expands the potential scale of an unprecedented attack.

Whether or not Google found or shared evidence is unclear as well as whether attackers used the same attack method as iPhone users who tried to sneak malicious code on users' phones when they visited of infected websites. Asked about these reported developments, a Google spokesman said the company had no new disclosure information. We have also contacted Microsoft and will update this article with their statements.

It was all part of a broad two-year campaign to collect oversight of the Uighur community, a minority Muslim group often targeted by the Chinese government, according to a TechCrunch report later confirmed by Forbes. However, when the hack was revealed, Google noted that "simply visiting the hack site was enough for the operating server to attack your device and if successful, install a monitoring implant." So it may be that people outside this ethnic group had affected by the attack. A source also told Forbes that the attacks may have been updated over time to break into other operating systems to accommodate changes in community usage.

This will mark the latest in a series of ethnic group repressions launched by the Chinese government and fueled by claims that the remote Xinjiang region is threatened by Islamist fighters and separatists. Last year, the state forced 2 million Uighurs and Muslim minorities into "political indoctrination camps," according to United Nations reports, which force more than 20 countries to call on China to end its mass detention efforts.

Referring to Google's recently revealed Cooper Quintin, senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation e-rights group, told Forbes:

"For years, the Chinese government has been systematically targeting the Uighur surveillance population and prison. These attacks are likely to spy on the Uighur population in China, the Uighur diaspora outside of China, and people who sympathize with and could help the Uighurs in their fight for independence. “


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