Chinese Government Reportedly Hacks Telecoms and Smartphones to Track Uyghur Population

Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and people chant slogans and wave flags during a protest march on June 29, 2019 in Osaka, Japan.
Photo: Getty Images

The Chinese government is employing hackers to crack both Asian telecommunications carriers and personal devices in an effort to track the Uyghur ethnic population in Asia, according to new reports from both Reuters and CNN.

Hackers who work for the Chinese government have infiltrated telecom systems in India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Thailand according to Reuters, which cites four unnamed intelligence and security sources. The countries are common stopovers for Uyghur people traveling between the Xinjiang region of China, where they face incredible oppression, and Turkey where they are comparatively more free.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear which telecoms have been hacked, according to Reuters:

Reuters was not able to identify which specific telecoms operators were compromised. Government officials in India and Thailand declined to comment. Authorities in Malaysia, Kazakhstan and Turkey did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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CNN is also expanding on a report from earlier this week at Forbes that explains how Chinese state actors are targeting smartphones, Android and iPhone alike, in order to track the Uyghur population. CNN reports that the hackers are able to install malicious software on smartphones after the users visit certain websites popular with the Uyghur population in Asia.

From CNN:

Some of the sites had the capability to infect both Android phones and iPhones, a source familiar with multiple companies’ research on the sites, some of which is not public, confirmed to CNN. It wasn’t clear, however, that the sites were capable of hacking both types of phones at the same time.

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China currently imprisons anywhere from an estimated 800,000 to 3 million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps. The Uyghurs are currently undergoing a cultural genocide in China, as Beijing wants to rid the people of their religion, language, and anything else that may distinguish them from the Han Chinese majority.

The Chinese government insists that the Uighur concentration camps are actually schools and that everyone there has enrolled voluntarily. But people who have escaped from the camps tell of the systematic torture that happens inside.

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China previously denied that it operated these camps at all, before outside media started to blow the whistle. But now, the Chinese government is hosting highly-scripted media events to show the world that everything is fine and there’s nothing to worry about. Countless Uyghur families have now come forward, hoping to find their disappeared relatives, realizing they have very little to lose by making their voices heard now.

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog