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Photo Illustration: Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said Wednesday it has blocked a group of hackers in China who have used the platform to target Uyghur activists, journalists and dissidents living abroad with links to surveillance malware.

Why it matters: The Chinese government is actively committing genocide against the Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group, inside the country, while harassing those who have left, according to Amnesty International.

  • Chinese authorities deny any rights abuses have been committed.

Context: Facebook said the "well-resourced" hacking groups, known as Earth Empusa or Evil Eye, targeted the devices of Uyghurs living abroad in Turkey, Kazakhstan, the United States, Syria, Australia, Canada and other countries.

  • The social media company said they infected the devices with malware to enable surveillance by sharing links to malicious websites with the targets rather than directly sharing the malware itself on the platform.
  • The hackers impersonated journalists, students, human rights advocates or members of the Uighur community in order to gain the trust of their targets and deceive them into clicking the links.
  • Facebook said there were less than 500 targets and less than 100 accounts tied to the hacking groups, according to Reuters.

What they're saying: "This activity had the hallmarks of a well-resourced and persistent operation while obfuscating who’s behind it," Facebook said.

  • "To disrupt this operation, we blocked malicious domains from being shared on our platform, took down the group’s accounts and notified people who we believe were targeted by this threat actor."

Go deeper: "Clear evidence" China is committing genocide against Uyghurs, report finds

Go deeper

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

3 hours ago - World

Australian PM pledges $700M for climate change-threatened Great Barrier reef

A green sea turtle is flourishing among the corals at Lady Elliot island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Friday a AU$1 billion ($703 million) investment plan for the Great Barrier Reef.

Why it matters: The nine-year plan for projects including water quality improvement, reef conservation and supporting some 64,000 tourism jobs comes months ahead of this year's federal election. It has been criticized by scientists and environmental groups for failing to tackle climate change.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.