Hong Kong protesters targeted with malware disguised as Occupy Central app


Protesters in Hong Kong are being targeted with malware disguised as an app from Occupy Central, the pro-democracy group helping to coordinate the movement.

According to Code4HK, a group that tries to improve government transparency in Hong Kong, a link to download the app was sent to protesters urging them to install the app and telling them it would help with Occupy Central’s coordination of pro-democracy rallies.

But Lau Sau-yin, a spokeswoman for Occupy Central, told the South China Morning Post the group is not behind the app.
“None of the Code4HK community has done any application on [Occupy Central] at the moment nor sent the message,” he said in a statement to the paper.

After users install the app, it requests access to contacts, browsing history, text messages and location, according to the paper. While efforts to reach the number that sent protesters the link to the app were unsuccessful, the paper reported the app connects to a server based in South Korea with “a log-in in simplified Chinese predominantly used on the mainland.”

Despite efforts by China to crack down on social media posts about the “Umbrella Movement” in Hong Kong, protesters, many of them students and young professionals, are finding ways to circumvent attempts at censorship.

The students protesting what they say are China’s efforts to curtail democracy have turned to an app called FireChat.

Unlike regular texting, the app does not require wireless networks or cell towers and essentially allows users to create a temporary Internet using what’s called a mesh network.

These networks cannot be shut down unilaterally, meaning the app offers a way to evade government crackdowns on communication.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 100,000 people in Hong Kong downloaded the app between Sunday and Monday. While networks appear to remain open, some are nervous they could be turned off in the near future.

The app was developed in March by Open Garden, a San Francisco-based company, but has already proved popular around the world. The app has been popular in Iraq, which has curtailed communication in an effort to stymie ISIS communication, and it was used in Taiwan during protests in the spring.

Christophe Daligault, marketing director for Open Garden, told Forbes that the app is working on letting FireChat users share private messages.

“Everything you type on FireChat is completely public,” he said. “We’re working on adding encryption…We’ve been working on it for a while. A lot of people in Hong Kong have been asking for it.”

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin