Facebook Says Chinese Hackers Tried to Trick Uyghurs
The logo for Facebook is displayed on a laptop computer in an arranged photograph taken in Little Falls, New Jersey, U.S. (Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg)

Facebook Says Chinese Hackers Tried to Trick Uyghurs


Facebook Inc. said Chinese hackers used fake accounts in an effort to trick some of the country’s ethnic Uyghur minority into clicking on malicious links.

The effort, which Facebook described as “highly targeted,” saw a group of hackers create fake personalities on Facebook to build relationships with Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic group in China. The hackers posed as journalists, students and human rights advocates to convince their targets to click on links that sent them to malicious websites, which could then infect their phones.

Facebook said fewer than 500 people were targeted, and that the majority of the effort took place on websites and services outside of the social network. As a result, Facebook executives said they were unable to determine the overall impact and consequences of the campaign.

“What they’re trying to do is target devices and target assets beyond Facebook and that makes it very tricky for us to assess success,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy. “The consequences and impact can be really high for individuals,” including potentially surveillance, he added.

The Chinese government has put at least tens of thousands of Uyghurs in internment camps, according to the United Nations. The country says it is fighting separatism and religious extremism among the ethnic group. The U.S. government called this “genocide” in January.

At a meeting between top diplomats of the U.S. and China last week, Politburo member Yang Jiechi attacked the U.S.’s human-rights record and called on the world to stop interfering in China’s “internal affairs.”

Facebook has cracked down in recent years on coordinated efforts by outside groups to create fake networks of accounts, many of them built to use the social networks’ massive scale to spread misinformation and disinformation. The company has removed multiple networks of accounts from China before, but stopped short of saying these hacking groups are linked to the Chinese government. “We can’t actually prove who is behind the operation,” Gleicher said.

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