China’s software stalked Uighurs earlier and more widely, researchers learn
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Before the Chinese police hung high-powered surveillance cameras and locked up ethnic minorities by the hundreds of thousands in China’s western region of Xinjiang, China’s hackers went to work building malware, researchers say.
The Chinese hacking campaign, which researchers at Lookout — the San Francisco mobile security firm — said on Wednesday had begun in earnest as far back as 2013 and continues to this day, was part of a broad but often invisible effort to pull in data from the devices that know people best: their smartphones.
Lookout found links between eight types of malicious software — some previously known, others not — that show how groups connected to China’s government hacked into Android phones used by Xinjiang’s largely Muslim Uighur population on a scale far larger than had been realized.
The timeline suggests the hacking campaign was an early cornerstone in China’s Uighur surveillance efforts that would later extend to collecting blood samples, voice prints, facial scans and other personal data to transform Xinjiang into a virtual police state. It also shows the lengths to which China’s minders were determined to follow Uighurs as they fled China for as many as 15 other countries.