In China, hackers used fake Facebook accounts, fraudulent websites to try to break into Muslim computers and smartphones, the social network reported on Wednesday.
The company said that Uyghur activists, journalists, dissidents from China’s Xinjiang region, as well as individuals living in Turkey, Kazakhstan, the United States, Syria, Australia, Canada and other countries, were targeted by a sophisticated, covert operation.
The hackers tried to gain access to computers և phones by creating fake Facebook accounts for alleged journalists և activists, as well as fake websites և programs aimed at Uyghur audiences. In some cases, hackers create sites that are almost identical to legitimate news sites popular with Uyghurs.
Accounts and sites contained malicious links. If a target clicks on someone, their computer or smartphone becomes infected with software that allows the network to spy on the target device.
Firefighters could obtain information, including the location of the victim, keystrokes և contacts, according to FireEye, a cyber security company that worked on the investigation.
In total, from 2019 to 2020, more than 500 people were targeted by hackers, according to Facebook. The company said it had discovered the network during its regular security operation, deactivated fake accounts, and notified anyone whose devices might be damaged. Most of the hacker activity took place on non-Facebook sites and platforms.
“They tried to create those people, to build trust in the community, to use it as a way to trick people into clicking on these links to reveal their devices,” said Nathaniel Glacher, Facebook’s head of security policy.
A Facebook investigation has uncovered links between hackers and “two technology companies based in China” but no direct links to the Chinese government, which has been criticized for its harsh treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. FireEye, however, said in a statement that “we believe this operation was carried out with the support of the Chinese government.”
According to US human rights groups, China has detained more than 1 million people in a vast network of concentration camps, including Uyghurs, mostly Muslims of other ethnic groups. People have been subjected to torture, sterilization, and political indoctrination, in addition to forced labor, as part of an assimilation campaign in a region whose inhabitants are ethnically and culturally different from most of Han China.