- The attacks were reportedly aimed at monitoring Uighurs in China
- Apple now claims that the attack was narrowly focused
- The company refutes Google’s claims of a mass hacking
Apple on Friday confirmed that China’s Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority group considered a security threat by Beijing, had been the target of attacks due to iPhone security flaws, but disputed rival Alphabet’s description of the effort to track users of the smartphone in real time.
Google Project Zero researchers said last week that five security flaws led to a “sustained effort to hack the users of iPhones in certain communities over a period of at least two years.”
The researchers did not specify the communities, but CNN, TechCrunch and other news organizations reported that the attacks had been aimed at monitoring Uighurs. Reuters recently reported that China hacked Asian telecommunications companies to spy on Uighur travellers.
Apple said on Friday the attack “was narrowly focused” and affected “fewer than a dozen websites that focus on content related to the Uighur community” rather than the “en masse” hack of iPhone users described by Google researchers. Apple also said it fixed the issue in February, within 10 days of being notified by Google.
Apple said evidence suggested that the website attacks lasted only two months, rather than the two years that Google researchers had suggested.
“Google’s post, issued six months after iOS patches were released, creates the false impression of “mass exploitation” to “monitor the private activities of entire populations in real time,” stoking fear among all iPhone users that their devices had been compromised,” Apple said in a newsroom post. “This was never the case.”
In a statement, Google said it stood by its findings and would continue to work with Apple and other companies to find and fix flaws.