iOS vulnerability exploited to spy on Uyghurs in China

Posted:
in General Discussion
Cybersecurity firm Volexity on Tuesday said it discovered a new iOS exploit that was recently used to surveil the Uyghur Muslim minority in China.

An illustration of how Insomnia works. Credit: Volexity
An illustration of how Insomnia works. | Source: Volexity


In July 2019, Apple patched a handful of security vulnerabilities in its mobile operating system with the iOS 12.4 update, including several flaws in WebKit. But researchers at Volexity said that at least one of those flaws was actively exploited in the wild in 2020.

The exploit, which Volexity has dubbed "Insomnia," was loaded onto user devices after they visited websites themed around China's Uyghur minority. Attackers then used the exploit, which granted them root access to user devices, to steal plaintext messages from various messaging clients, emails, photos, contact lists and GPS location data.

Reportedly, the Insomnia exploit was used in the wild between January and March 2020.

Volexity said the exploit was deployed by a hacking group they've called Evil Eye, which they believe to be a state-sponsored outfit operating on behalf of China to spy on the Uyghur minority.

The hacking group is also believed to be the threat actor behind a similar slate of iOS surveillance exploits discovered by Google and Volexity in August 2019. Those exploits were used to spy on Uyghurs in China since at least 2016.

Compared to the previous exploits, Insomnia was expanded to target and include end-to-end encrypted communications from apps like ProtonMail and Signal. Researchers think that suggests Uyghurs were aware of surveillance taking place and were taking steps to protect their communications.

Since Insomnia is a WebKit-based exploit, it works on any browser running on an iOS device. Researchers confirmed that Safari, Chrome and Microsoft Edge browsers were vulnerable, meaning any iOS user who visited the Uyghur-themed websites could become infected.

The WebKit vulnerability was present in iOS 12.3, iOS 12.3.1 and iOS 12.3.2, but iOS 12.4 and newer versions are safe. It's worth noting that Insomnia did not achieve persistence on a device, which means that a simple reboot is enough to remove its malicious code.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 13
    bulk001bulk001 Posts: 640member
    “Researchers think that suggests Uyghurs were aware of surveillance taking place and were taking steps to protect their communications.”

    Needs someone to proof this article. 
  • Reply 2 of 13
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,301member
    So the U.S. government doesn’t really need a backdoor then.
    lam92103GG1jony0watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 13
    mknelsonmknelson Posts: 790member
    Odd if the iOS exploit was only used this year (or maybe only noticed?) when iOS was patched in July 2019. They wouldn't have had many vulnerable devices to exploit.

    Although, since they really only need to be able to crack one end of the communication there is a multiplier effect.
    tommy65watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 13
    bulk001 said:
    “Researchers think that suggests Uyghurs were aware of surveillance taking place and were taking steps to protect their communications.”

    Needs someone to proof this article. 
    Why? It might work better to replace "suggests" with "indicates", but that's not a proofreading oversight. 
    fastasleepdysamoriawatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 13
    Russia/USSR threatens the western world. China threatens their own people.  

    Chicom is the cancer of the world.
    georgie01macseekerlam92103StrangeDayslkruppwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 13
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 5,477member
    bulk001 said:
    “Researchers think that suggests Uyghurs were aware of surveillance taking place and were taking steps to protect their communications.”

    Needs someone to proof this article. 
    uh, why?
    Harrigan
  • Reply 7 of 13
    Anilu_777Anilu_777 Posts: 260member
    This is why all devices should automatically update by default. Yes, be able to turn it off but the default should be ‘on’.
    PetrolDavewatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 13
    tommy65tommy65 Posts: 56member
    The importance of end-to-end encryption in a country were human rights are not the same as in other parts of the world is a need well served by a few security minded companies. As security specialists we all know that connected devices are as secure as their connections to the next hop. Analyzing and Sniffing data packages is a way to let’s say join a conversation. Always keep this in mind especially connecting to hotspots when you are traveling. And yes a VPN can help to protect your devices real location but not the data leaving your beloved iPhone or other brand. End-to-end encryption can help to secure your data hopping from one to the next point before arriving at the endpoint. 
    PetrolDaveHarriganwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 13
    simply258simply258 Posts: 123member
    bulk001 said:
    “Researchers think that suggests Uyghurs were aware of surveillance taking place and were taking steps to protect their communications.”

    Needs someone to proof this article. 
    uh, why?
    Can you make sense of the first 4 words?
  • Reply 10 of 13
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,006member
    simply258 said:
    bulk001 said:
    “Researchers think that suggests Uyghurs were aware of surveillance taking place and were taking steps to protect their communications.”

    Needs someone to proof this article. 
    uh, why?
    Can you make sense of the first 4 words?
    Yes. Perfectly clear to me. "think it suggests" / "think that suggests"
    dysamoriaHarrigan
  • Reply 11 of 13
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 3,396member
    So when I complain about typos, I get smacked. When someone else complains about awkward sentences that are technically correct... no smacking?
  • Reply 12 of 13
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,395member
    China, still a brutal authoritarian regime. Covid pushed the stories out, but they have really been amping up their persecution of Uyghurs. This year they have been bulldozing their cemeteries, kidnapping and  imprisoning, re-education camps, organ harvesting, and arresting family members of those who have fled the country. It’s quite awful. 

    China cannot be entrusted with great power on the world stage. They do not value human rights.  
    edited April 2020 Harriganwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 13
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 5,477member
    simply258 said:
    bulk001 said:
    “Researchers think that suggests Uyghurs were aware of surveillance taking place and were taking steps to protect their communications.”

    Needs someone to proof this article. 
    uh, why?
    Can you make sense of the first 4 words?
    Yes, perfectly. Did you read it in the context of the previous sentence to understand what “that” is in reference to? We’ll wait. 
    watto_cobra
Sign In or Register to comment.