Apple CEO Tim Cook meets China official amid iCloud hacking row

Apple CEO Tim Cook holds an iPad during a presentation at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Apple CEO Tim Cook holds an iPad during a presentation at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

BEIJING (AFP) - Apple CEO Tim Cook met a senior Chinese official on Wednesday, days after hackers targeted the company's iCloud service in an attack which an anti-censorship group claims originated in China.

Cook and Vice Premier Ma Kai "exchanged views on protection of users' information" during a meeting at the ruling Communist Party's Zhongnanhai leadership compound, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The pair "also exchanged views on strengthening cooperation in information and communication fields", Xinhua said.

An Apple spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the meeting.

Cook is a frequent visitor to China, where the iPhone 6 was launched last week and where the US tech giant's products enjoy a devoted following.

During a trip to Shanghai last January, Cook said he expects China to surpass the United States to become Apple's largest market.

Cook's latest visit comes days after the anti-censorship group claimed that Chinese authorities had launched a "man-in-the-middle" attack interfering with the iCloud service to try to obtain information from Chinese users.

"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, contacts, etc.," the group said, adding that the move appeared to coincide with the iPhone launch.

On Tuesday Apple acknowledged the hacking attempts but made no mention of China.

"We're aware of intermittent organised network attacks using insecure certificates to obtain user information, and we take this very seriously," its statement said.

The news comes just weeks after a widely publicised incident which allowed hackers to access and post nude pictures of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence from their iCloud accounts.

Apple maintained that some celebrity accounts were compromised in a "targeted attack" to gain passwords, but that it found no breach of iCloud or other Apple systems.

Cook's visit to China comes days after Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg - whose site is banned in China along with other popular social media platforms including Twitter and Instagram - was appointed to the advisory board of Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management (SEM) in Beijing.

China's Communist authorities maintain a tight grip on public expression, but Facebook officials have made frequent trips to Beijing in recent years, driving speculation that the world's largest social network may yet be eyeing a way into the market.

The Tsinghua SEM advisory board includes more than 60 top political and business leaders from China and abroad, among them Cook, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

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