Apple says iPhone attack targeted Uighurs - Security

Yolanda Curtis
September 10, 2019

Apple accuses Google of "inciting panic and fear" about the iPhone's security issue. However, Apple is now seeking to downplay the severity of the attack, claiming Project Zero has blown the whole thing out of proportion.

Later on Friday, Alphabet Inc.'s Google responded to Apple's statement, saying it stands by "our in-depth research".

"Second, all evidence indicates that these website attacks were only operational for a brief period, roughly two months, not "two years" as Google implies", Apple said.

"Last week, Google published a blog about vulnerabilities that Apple fixed for iOS users in February", said Apple.

In what was a strong rebuke of Google's findings, Apple's post declared that the "sophisticated attack" did not target iPhones "en masse". It said the hacked websites used to exploit the vulnerabilities numbered fewer than a dozen and mainly featured content related to the Uyghur community, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group from China's western Xinjiang region. The vulnerabilities had been exploited for months, they said, and targeted a small number of websites.

Apart from the clarifications (iPhone users need more than anything right now), Apple affirmed that safety is its topmost priority.

The big issue for both Companies is that the attack was allegedly driven by Chinese authorities and both Companies don't want to upset the Chinese Authorities.

Last week, Google's Project Zero security research team posted information about a serious vulnerability in iOS.

However, Tim Willis, a Google Project Zero member said that this wasn't a sign of Google being duplicitous (and trying to sabotage a rival on the mobile OS market) but that Google researchers only saw the malicious code targeting iOS devices.

If, as claimed in its statement, Apple knew about the iOS flaw before Google informed them, why did they not properly inform their users? It concluded: "We will never stop our tireless work to keep our users safe". One of the URLs, to give you an example, was quite clearly a news site aimed at Uighur readers, or at least those interested in their plight. Kuo doesn't go into much detail on what these new redesigns might be, suggesting that Apple may focus on different screen sizes.

Apple also recently expanded its support to third-party fix shops by launching a groundbreaking new programme to train technicians and give them access to genuine Apple parts.

UPDATE: Sept. 6, 2019, 1:38 p.m. PT: Updated to add Google's statement and criticism from Alex Stamos.

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