Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Businessweek
Cybersecurity

Hackers Target Hong Kong Protesters via iPhones

Malware that cracks both Apple and Android hit Hong Kong protesters
Demonstrators in Hong Kong
Demonstrators in Hong KongPhotograph by Carlos Barria/Reuters

When the Hong Kong protests were at their height, activists using WhatsApp received messages advertising a program that promised to help them coordinate protests. When the demonstrators downloaded the program through a link in the message, it turned out to be malicious software—most likely created by the Chinese government—that hacked their smartphones. Lacoon Mobile Security, based in San Francisco, began to analyze the phony app after spotting unusual communication on the networks of its corporate clients, some of whose employees had downloaded it. In tracing the spyware’s path to the websites where it sent data, Lacoon’s researchers found a much rarer species of malware: a version that can steal information from iPhones.

Once the malware gets into an iPhone, it can gain access to contacts, text messages, call logs, and pictures. It can upload files and play recordings, as well as steal data. It gets inside one of the most sensitive locations on the iPhone: the keychain in which other applications, including e-mail, store passwords.