SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook said on Wednesday it was disrupting efforts by hackers in China to spy on supporters of the Uyghur minority living outside that country.
A group of well-resourced hackers in China have targeted hundreds of Uyghur activists, journalists, and dissidents living abroad, in an attempt to trick them into clicking on malicious code-boiled website links, according to the social network.
“This group used various electronic espionage methods to identify their targets and infect their devices with malware to enable surveillance,” said Mike Deviliansky, head of Facebook espionage investigations and director of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher, in a blog post.
“This activity had the hallmarks of an ongoing, well-resourced process with no concealment behind it.”
The primary targets were Uyghurs from Xinjiang in China who now live in Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan, Syria, Turkey, the United States and other countries, according to Facebook.
While briefing reporters, executives said the cyber espionage campaign included luring targets for off-social network sites where malware could slip onto their cell phones.
Hackers have created fake Facebook accounts pretending to be journalists, activists, or other Uighur sympathizers so that like-minded people can interact with the posts.
“The tactic was to build trust, then use that as a way to trick them into clicking on these links to expose their devices,” Gleicher said in the briefing.
“Even for a small number of users, less than 500 in this case around the world, the impact can be very serious – You can imagine the observation. “
Malware used could allow cyber spies to take over people’s cell phones and access information, cameras and microphones, according to security alerts about the malicious code.
Since the targets were lured away from Facebook, Gleicher said, the social network couldn’t tell how many of them clicked booby-trapped links elsewhere.
“We see only part of the activity,” he added.
To disable this process, Facebook has blocked harmful domains from being shared on the platform; It shot down the group’s accounts and notified people it believed were targeted, according to the executives.
Rights groups say that at least a million Uighurs and other minorities, most of them Muslims, have been imprisoned in camps in Xinjiang, where authorities have also accused the authorities of forcibly sterilizing women and imposing forced labor.
China vehemently denied the allegations, saying that better training programs, work plans and education have helped eliminate extremism in the northwest region and increase incomes.