At a time of concern that India’s Muslims in Kashmir might be targeted, we’re now hearing that China has been targeting its own Uyghur Muslims over the last two years. Sources report that iPhone malware was designed to single out China’s Uyghur Muslims. Additionally, some sources suggest the malware targeted not only iOS users but also Android and Windows users.
Google uncovers zero-day vulnerabilities
In a blog post toward the end of last week, Google’s Project Zero team identified the iPhone malware. They revealed a great many technical details about it, adding that a group was “making a sustained effort to hack the users of iPhones in certain communities over a period of at least two years.” The Project Zero team did not state which community was being targeted.
According to Google, the iPhone malware used what’s called a “watering hole” method, which means that the malware could install itself on any of the unprotected devices that visited the hacked websites. In the case of a successful attack, the malware monitored users’ devices. The Project Zero team identified five different iPhone exploit chains covering nearly every iOS version from iOS 10 to the current iOS 12.
Fourteen vulnerabilities were found in those five chains, including the web browser, kernel and sandbox escapes. At least one of the vulnerabilities were zero-day vulnerabilities. Google reported details on them to Apple earlier this year, and Apple fixed them in February.
iPhone malware targets China’s Uyghur Muslims
Citing sources familiar with the situation, TechCrunch reports that several malicious websites have been used as part of a state-sponsored attack on China’s Uyghur Muslims. The tech blog’s sources believe the attacks came from China and were specifically targeting Uyghur Muslims living in Xinjiang state. Chinese authorities have been targeting Uyghurs recently. The United Nations estimates that Chinese officials have detained over 1 million Uyghurs in internment camps.
Forbes also reports that the malware was designed to target China’s Uyghur Muslims. However, the publication also cited sources familiar with the matter who said Android and Windows were also used to target them. Forbes describes China’s surveillance of Uyghurs in Xinjiang as “pervasive.”
The revelation that Android and Windows were used in addition to iPhone malware demonstrates just how broad the attack was. Forbes added that one source said the attacks were updated every so often for each of the operating systems as Uyghurs changed their usage of technology. It was unclear whether Google was aware that its own Android OS and Microsoft’s Windows were also being used to target the community. However, one of the magazine’s sources claimed Google only saw iOS vulnerabilities.
A spokesperson for Microsoft said Google has not disclosed anything about a similar attack on Windows, adding that Google specifically mentioned iOS in its warning. The method of attack via Android and Windows is also unclear. In the case of the iPhone, malware was used to spy on users’ data. However, the Android and Windows exploits have not been described.