Apple confirms Uighurs were targeted in iPhone attack; disputes Google's findings

A student uses a contactless student ID on iPhone to enter a campus building

Length of attack: Apple asserted that the campaign lasted "roughly two months" and "not "two years" as Google implies".

As it downplayed the impact of the vulnerabilities found by the Google researchers, Apple sought to reassure iPhone users about the security of their devices.

Apple also clarified on its section that the attack used to be "narrowly focused" and affected fewer than a dozen websites that focused on exclaim connected to the Uighur team.

"Irrespective of the scale of the attack, we acquire the basic safety and protection of all end users exceptionally severely", it said.

Apple accuses Google of stoking fear "among all iPhone users that their devices had been compromised", when "this was never the case". Apple also said it fixed the issue in February, within 10 days of being notified by Google.

It then went on to correct some false statements made about the website attacks including how long it lasted.

Tim Willis, a researcher on the Project Zero team, wrote in a tweet that Google's Threat Analysis Group "only saw iOS exploitation on these sites when TAG found them back in Jan 2019 (and yes, they looked for everything else as well)".


"Project Zero posts technical research that is created to advance the understanding of security vulnerabilities, which leads to better defensive strategies", Google said in statement. Additionally, Apple claims that it was working on fixing the security loopholes before Google even contacted them.

Apple, via an official press release, has hinted that the security concerns discussed in Google's report are defined as a large-scale one.

The specific targetting of one specific ethnic group who are already said to be victims of Chinese civil rights abuses has led some to suspect it was a nation-state attack in the first place.

Updated 12:16 pm PT: The post was updated to include Google's response to Apple. However, Google's Threat Analysis Group (TAG) said that it found exploits "covering nearly every version from iOS 10 through to the latest version of iOS 12". Google's Project Zero recently revealed details of flaws in iOS that were being used to target and monitor iPhone users. "Security is a never-ending journey and our customers can be confident we are working for them".

In its trademark, tight-lipped style, Apple disclosed little about its plans for Tuesday's event at its headquarters in the Silicon Valley city of Cupertino.

Yesterday, Google said that it stands by its in-depth research and also issued a statement.

We're expecting three new iPhone 11 smartphones, plus, maybe, the Apple Watch 5 and Apple HomePod 2, along with a wildcard product - possibly a Global Positioning System tracker - and we're also expecting to learn when iOS 13 and iPadOS will become available to the public.

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