China-Linked Hackers Target Tibetan Activists' Smartphones By Spoofing Amnesty International Officials

A hacking group linked to the Chinese government targeted Tibetan leaders between November 2018 and April 2019 - including those working for the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government - after posing as activists from Amnesty International and other organizations in order to trick them into clicking on malicious links on WhatsApp. 

According to the digital rights group The Citizen Lab, "the links had the capacity to install spyware on iPhones and Android devices." 

The hacking attempts were carried out by the same group that previously targeted Uyghur Muslims in China, according to the Citizen Lab's report. Those hacks were publicized by Google researchers last month, and TechCrunch reported that the attack was carried out by a group linked to the Chinese government.

At the time, Google researchers said the one-click hacks targeted iOS devices and that any iPhone user could be vulnerable. Apple downplayed that characterization, stating that they were already in the process of fixing exploits when Google uncovered the attacks and that only a narrow set of users were targeted. -Business Insider

The vulnerabilities were patched for both iOS and Android devices, and none of the targeted Tibetans were affected by the malicius attempts as they had installed the updates. 

According to Citizen Lab: "Of the 17 intrusion attempts we observed against Tibetan targets, 12 contained links to the iOS exploit. All but one of the attempts were sent between November 11-14, 2018, with the last attempt sent on April 22, 2019." 

Over 140 people clicked on the iOS spyware link according to the report. 

"Our customers' data security is one of Apple's highest priorities and we greatly value our collaboration with security researchers like Citizen Lab. The iOS issue detailed in the report had already been discovered and patched by the security team at Apple. We always encourage customers to download the latest version of iOS for the best and most current security enhancements," an Apple spokesperson told Business Insider