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China’s Surveillance of Uyghurs’ iPhones

An article on the website of the French weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur described a hacking competition, secretly organized by the Chinese government, which offered a reward of $200,000 to anyone who could hack into an iPhone. The competition finally paid off.

In November 2018, a Chinese hacker managed to find a way to intercept information on an iPhone remotely. A few months ago, the U.S. security authorities informed Apple of the information. A May 6 article published in the MIT Technology Review magazine detailed the above process. However, it did not reveal the channel through which the Chinese hacker gained the access. The article commented that, since 2018, Chinese hackers have stopped participating in the annual international hacking competition held in Vancouver, Canada, which is a side event of the Computer Security Conference. It is clear that Beijing believes that the findings of Chinese hackers should be used by China’s security apparatus. Starting in 2018, Beijing has been holding a competition called the Tianfu Cup Chinese Hacking Competition. A hacker named Qixun Zhao won the first Tianfu Cup prize for successfully hacking into the iPhone. He named his discovery “Chaos” and the Chinese media praised his work, calling it “the perfect remote jailbreak of the iPhone.” Two months later, Apple quietly patched the loophole. During this two-month gap, it was possible that the Chinese security authorities had monitored all iPhone users, especially those of Uyghurs. Research by the U.S. government and Google shows that the findings by Chinese hackers provided a great deal of assistance to the Beijing government’s mass surveillance of Uyghurs.

Source: Radio France International, May 15, 2021