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I came across sentences:

For instance, a user has surfed across an innocent-looking site, holding information on an upcoming industry event. Unknown to them, however, a malvertisement campaign is targeting this exact page.

Unfortunately, the military misunderstood the device’s potential and never considered using it. Unknown to them, however, their work would go on to influence modern spread spectrum technology used in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS.

In these sentences, "Unknown to them" part puzzles me. I don't know what the phrase is modifying. Who is "them" here? And can the 'unknown to them,' which I think is a participial phrase, modify the next clause? (Actually, I'm extremely confused what grammatical role it plays here.)

I'd really appreciate if you could enlighten me. Sorry if my English is terrible as I am not a native speaker of English.

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In both cases, "them" refers to the subject of the previous sentence. In the first example it's the user, in the second it's the military.

"Unknown to them" means essentially the same thing as "They don't/didn't know". So the first example can be rewritten as

For instance, a user has surfed across an innocent-looking site, holding information on an upcoming industry event. However, they don't know that a malvertisement campaign is targeting this exact page.

I think the "unknown to" style tends to be used to emphasize the lack of knowledge by putting it at the head of the sentence. There generally seems to be a suggestion that they would be surprised to know this.

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