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Chinese authorities are secretly installing surveillance apps on smartphones of foreigners at border crossings in the Xinjiang region who are entering from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, an international investigation revealed.

Xinjiang (XUAR) is an autonomous territory and home to many Muslim ethnic minority groups where China is known to be conducting massive surveillance operations, especially on the activities of Uighurs, a Muslim Turkic minority group of about 8 million people.

The Chinese government has blamed the Muslim Turkic minority group for Islamic extremism and deadly attacks on Chinese targets.

According to a joint investigation by New York Times, the Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung and more, the surveillance app has been designed to instantly extract emails, texts, calendar entries, call records, contacts and insecurely uploads them to a local server set-up at the check-point only.

This suggests that the spyware app has not been designed to continuously and remotely track people while in China. In fact, in the majority of cases, the report says the surveillance app is uninstalled before the phone is returned to its owner.

The spyware, called Feng Cai (蜂采) or BXAQ, also scans infected Android devices for over 73,000 pre-defined files related to Islamic extremist groups, including ISIS recruitment fliers, bomb-making instructions, and images of executions.

images from Hacker News