Given the reach that Facebook now has, it’s inevitable that some organizations will seek to use the platform to influence users, and boost their agendas through nefarious means.
This week, Facebook has taken action against a Chinese-originated hacker group known as ‘Evil Eye’, among other identifiers, which had sought to use Facebook to distribute malware in order to hack people’s accounts.
As explained by Facebook:
“[The group] targeted activists, journalists and dissidents predominantly among Uyghurs from Xinjiang in China primarily living abroad in Turkey, Kazakhstan, the United States, Syria, Australia, Canada and other countries. This group used various cyber espionage tactics to identify its targets and infect their devices with malware to enable surveillance.”
There’s no direct connection implied with the Chinese Government, but the CCP has gone to great effort to restrict the sharing of information about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims, many of whom are now, allegedly, being held in “re-education camps” in China, as it seeks to limit the growth of alternative religious movements. Various humanitarian groups have repeatedly called for action against China to address the treatment of Uyghurs in the region.
Evil Eye, as per Facebook’s description, has been seeking to use Facebook as a means to infiltrate communities of Uyghurs abroad, by installing malware – including a program called ‘Insomnia’ – on detected users’ devices.
“This activity had the hallmarks of a well-resourced and persistent operation while obfuscating who’s behind it. On our platform, this cyber espionage campaign manifested primarily in sending links to malicious websites rather than direct sharing of the malware itself. We saw this activity slow down at various times, likely in response to our and other companies’ actions to disrupt their activity.”
It’s not clear, exactly, what the intentions of the group were in this respect, but in response, Facebook has now blocked their associated domains, removed the group’s accounts, and notified all users who were targeted.
It’s part of a concerning trend – the rising reliance on digital platforms as a means of interaction also means that people are increasingly leaving data trails, which authoritarian regimes can then use to track and target them as they may see fit. The fact that this effort expands beyond China is also concerning. While the CCP undertakes its own programs within China, which are difficult for outside groups to fully examine and investigate, the expansion into other nations also points to concerns as to how it may seek to glean data insights from social apps for such purpose.
That’s what was behind the US Government’s push to ban TikTok last year, which eventually fizzled out – but findings like this underline the logic behind such pushes, and may even reignite concerns under the Biden Administration.
It also raises further questions about the safety of online data, and how, and when, you share personal information.
Facebook has detected this effort, and it continues to improve its processes, but that doesn’t mean that all such activities are being caught out.