Chinese Hackers Suspected in iCloud, Website Attacks

As protests in Hong Kong continue, security researchers have seen increasing use of strategic Web compromises targeting the devices of pro-democracy dissidents.

iCloud and Website attacks

Man-in-the-middle attacks on Apple's iCloud service and the compromise of a handful of pro-democracy Websites have targeted Chinese users over the past three weeks, according to analyses of the attacks.

On Monday,, a Website shedding light on the filtering done by China's Great Firewall, posted an analysis of a man-in-the-middle attack that masquerades as the authentic login portal for Apple's iCloud service. Any user who falls victim to the ruse has essentially handed the attackers, thought to be the Chinese government, the keys to their personal information.

While previous attacks on Google and Yahoo used a similar technique, by targeting Apple, the attackers gain access to more information, GreatFire stated.

"This is clearly a malicious attack on Apple in an effort to gain access to usernames and passwords and consequently all data stored on iCloud such as iMessages, photos, [and] contacts," the site stated. "If users ignored the security warning and clicked through to the Apple site and entered their username and password, this information has now been compromised by the Chinese authorities."

The claim of an attack by the Chinese government comes after another security group documented a series of strategic Website compromises that aimed to infect visitors to pro-democracy sites. Websites for the Alliance for True Democracy, the Democratic Party of Hong Kong and People Power—all from Hong Kong—were compromised to host code that would cause visitors' Web browsers to attempt to download a malicious file, according to an analysis by security services firm Volexity.

"People's guard is down because they are visiting a trusted Website, so these attacks are exploiting their trust," Steven Adair, founder and CEO of Volexity, told eWEEK. "They have people who they consider interesting and they will try to limit who they are actually exploiting."

The scripts loaded by the attack will profile the victim's machine to determine if the machine is of interest to the attackers, and then attempt to compromise the system with exploits for Java vulnerabilities, according to Volexity.

The two attacks are the latest attempts to compromise the information technology of Chinese citizens. A previous attack used Trojan horse programs sent to activists in email in an attempt to compromise mobile devices. The campaign involved both Android and iOS malware, according to Lacoon Mobile Security, which analyzed the programs.

While business people should be wary of these attacks as signs of the capabilities of potential nation-state adversaries, the attacks currently target pro-democracy protestors and supporters. Yet the use of such techniques will continue to grow, Volexity's Adair said.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...