Hackers based in China used Facebook to spy on the Uighur diaspora, the company announced Wednesday, though Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy stopped short of directly blaming the Chinese government. "We can see geographic attribution based on the activity, but we can't actually prove who's behind the operation," he told journalists, per NBC News.
China's Uighur population, a largely Muslim ethnic minority group in the northwest Xinjiang region, has been subject to human rights abuses in China for years. China denies any mistreatment, admitting only that members of the Uighur population are sent to "re-education camps." But there are reports detailing long prison stints, torture, forced labor, and sterilization. The Trump administration deemed what's happening in Xinjiang a genocide, and the Biden administration doesn't appear likely to change Washington's stance.
It appears that Uighurs outside Xinjiang are also being targeted. Mike Dvilyanski, Facebook's head of cyber espionage, told reporters that the hackers created Facebook personas "designed to look like journalists that focus on issues critical to the Uighur community, that are designed to look like activists that might be standing up for the Uighur community, designed to look like members of the community." Then, he said, they "use that as a way to trick them into clicking these links to expose their devices."
Again, Facebook says it has no evidence Beijing is aware of or behind the cyberattacks, but Steven Adair, the CEO of Volexity, a cybersecurity company that in 2019 published research that found China's hackers "had gone to extreme measures to hack and spy on Uighurs," didn't need much convincing, NBC News reports. "Who else would have the resources, the time, and effort to go after these people? If you told me it was Iceland, I'd be pretty surprised," he said. Read more at NBC News.