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China has been spying on Xinjiang citizens for longer than had been anticipated, research shows

The "digital gulags" of Uighur citizens has been long-documented.

A recent investigation by security firm Lookout indicates that the Chinese government has carried out a hacking and surveillance campaign by installing malware on the smartphones of the Muslim people living in Xinjiang since 2011.

The citizens of China have not been so lucky to retain their privacy, especially when it comes to the region of Xinjiang. This region is known for being the home of a large Muslim group, the Uighurs, who are under constant surveillance by the authorities and aided by Big Tech companies.

Check out a more in-depth look into Uighur surveillance here.

Just over a year ago, the government installed new face-recognition security cameras in the region, and while this already seemed drastic, recent reports from multiple computer security experts indicate that surveillance is much more aggressive than previously thought.

First, they were reports from Google, the University of Toronto, and independent security firms such as Volexity, who discovered the large number of smartphones that have been hacked since 2015 by the Chinese government, with the best technology available at the moment. The mechanisms included counterfeiting of applications used by Uighurs and the infection of news and entertainment websites.

However, the recent investigation by the Lockout firm, located in San Francisco, determined that these reports fell short in estimating the true extent of the espionage. The report indicates that eavesdropping on smartphones would have started in 2011 with prototypes of the malware known as GoldenEagle, but it was not until 2015 that espionage was radicalized. Currently, keyboards loggers specially designed for Uighurs are being used for this job, which registers everything they write.

Others of the numerous spywares would serve to record calls, expose messages or personal photos, turn on and off the microphones at will, among many other things.

While it is true that there is no way to verify that these hackers are related to the Chinese government, the type of attack that the Muslim population has experienced gives way to doubt.

In various testimonies, Xinjiang residents have reported that the authorities detain people who do not have smartphones, who have old phones, or who have more than one phone. In less drastic cases, the government confiscates the cell phones they return them later with modifications to the software.

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