Hackers infected targets’ electronic devices with malware “to enable surveillance,” Facebook (FB) said. In some cases, hackers have compromised or pretended to be popular news sites among Uyghurs to secretly install spyware.
“They have targeted activists, journalists and dissidents among Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang in China living mainly abroad in Turkey, Kazakhstan, the United States and other countries,” he said. Facebook said in a post Wednesday detailing its findings on the cyberespionage campaign.
“This group used fake Facebook accounts to create fictional characters posing as journalists, students, human rights activists or members of the Uyghur community to build trust with the targeted individuals and encourage clicking on malicious links, ”the company said.
Some of Facebook’s findings benefited from research by FireEye, a cybersecurity company, Facebook said.
In January, the United States officially determined that China was committing genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghur Muslims and ethnic and religious minority groups living in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. (The Chinese government has denied this claim, calling it a lie.)
The US State Department has estimated that up to 2 million Uyghurs, as well as members of other Muslim minority groups, have been held in internment camps in the region.
Facebook did not directly blame the Beijing government, but said the hackers “had the hallmark of a persistent and well-resourced operation.” (Hackers linked to the Chinese government have previously hacked iPhones and Android devices to target Uyghurs.)
The hacking groups identified as being behind the latest campaign are known in the cybersecurity industry as “Evil Eye” and “Earth Empusa” and have been implicated in previous spy campaigns, according to Facebook.
Facebook’s announcement comes a day before CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears before Congress, alongside executives at Twitter and Google. Zuckerberg is expected to be asked about the role his platform may have played in fueling the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, among others.
Facebook and other social media platforms have been widely criticized for allowing Russian trolls to pose as Americans online in the run-up to the 2016 election. Since then, Facebook has publicly called out some governments and other entities to quit ‘he finds using his platform for nefarious purposes.