Chinese iPhone users worry about privacy issues after reports indicate safety loophole
Published: Jul 21, 2021 12:12 AM
People shop at an Apple store in North China's Shanxi Province on October 23 after iPhone 12 was newly launched. Photo: cnsphoto

People shop at an Apple store in North China's Shanxi Province on October 23 after iPhone 12 was newly launched. Photo: cnsphoto

Some of Chinese iPhone users expressed their worries about personal privacy after a report from Amnesty International showed Apple's iPhones can be hacked with spyware even if you don't click on a link.

The report said it discovered iPhones belonging to journalists and human rights lawyers had been infected with NSO Group's Pegasus malware which can provide the attacker access to messages, emails and the phone's microphone and camera.

It also suggests governments using NSO Group software have been able to successfully hack iPhones to spy on user data using methods unknown to Apple. Even keeping an iPhone up-to-date cannot stop a dedicated attacker who's using expensive and secretive spy software, according to a CNBC report.

Media reports said this software has been used to monitor human rights activists, journalists and lawyers in at least 50 countries around the world. The number of victims of the spyware may be as high as 50,000.

In response from Apple, its head of security engineering said in a statement that "attacks like the ones described are highly sophisticated, cost millions of dollars to develop, often have a short shelf life, and are used to target specific individuals." 

The news has quickly topped the discussion list on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media website, on Tuesday.

"Apple's response shows it admits the reports are true and those who are at key positions in China will all replace their iPhones later," a Weibo user hongguoguoyuan, posted.

"I'm not surprised, maybe some of my personal data could have already been collected and sent back to the US," Zhang Han, a Beijing resident and iPhone user, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

This is not the first time that a security breach has been exposed in the iPhone . 

According to a report from published on July 4, Carl Schou, a security researcher found that certain Wi-Fi networks with the percent symbol (%) in their names can disable Wi-Fi on iPhones and other iOS devices. If an iPhone comes within range of a network named %secretclub%power, the device will not be able to use Wi-Fi or any related features, and even after resetting network settings, the bug may continue to deactivate Wi-Fi on the device,.

A few weeks ago, Schou and his non-profit organization, Secret Club, which reverse-engineers software for research purposes, found that if an iPhone is connected to a network with the SSiD named %p%s%s%s%s%n it will cause a bug in the iOS' networking stack that will disable its Wi-Fi, and system networking features like AirDrop would become unusable, said the report.

China remains as one of Apple's most important markets despite the strained China-US ties.

Apple reported a record quarterly revenue from China in the first quarter of 2021. During Q1 2021 earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook discussed some of the data behind the company's record numbers in China. The iPhone 12 with 5G plays a big part but it is not the whole picture.

"China was more than the iPhone story," Cook said.