Hong Kong News

Nonpartisan, Noncommercial, unconstrained.
Thursday, Feb 09, 2023

Researchers say Thai pro-democracy activists, rich foreignness residents, hit by Pegasus spyware

Researchers say Thai pro-democracy activists, rich foreignness residents, hit by Pegasus spyware

Cybersecurity researchers reported details Monday of cases where Thai activists involved in the country’s pro-democracy protests as well as rich foreign investors and foreign residents had their cell phones or other devices infected and attacked with government-sponsored spyware.
Investigators of the internet watchdog groups Citizen Lab, Thailand’s Internet Law Reform Dialogue, or iLaw, and Digital Reach said at least 30 individuals — including activists, scholars and people working with civil society groups — were targeted by an unnamed government entity or entities for surveillance with Pegasus, a spyware produced by the Israeli-based cybersecurity company NSO Group.

The reports from the two groups named many of those targeted, confirming earlier reports of the surveillance, which John Scott-Railton of Citizen Lab said shows that governments are exploiting their ability to buy technologies designed to fight crime and terrorism to spy on critics and other private citizens.

“Citizen Lab believes there is a fundamental challenge for civil society,” John Scott-Railton of Citizen Lab said in an online presentation at a briefing in Bangkok.

The attacks on the individuals’ devices spanned from Oct. 2020 to Nov. 2021, a timing “highly relevant to specific Thai political events” since they took place over the period of time when pro-democracy protests erupted across the country.

But Scott-Railton said Citizen Lab, which exposes digital espionage campaigns and insecure software, believed there was still an active Pegasus operator in Thailand.

Those whose devices were attacked were either involved in the protests in 2020-2021, or were publicly critical of the Thai monarchy. Lawyers who defended the activists also were under such digital surveillance, the researchers said.

The Pegasus spyware is known for “zero-click exploits,” which means it can be installed remotely onto a target’s phone without the target having to click any links or download software.

The spyware can obtain any data on the devices, including contact lists and group chats, making it highly effective against political groups and movements, Scott-Railton said.

NSO Group’s products, including the Pegasus software, are typically licensed only to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to investigate terrorism and serious crime, according to the company’s website. Citizen Lab and other cyber security researchers have tracked the spyware to 45 countries.

In a separate report Monday, the human rights group Amnesty International reiterated its call for a global moratorium on the sale of spyware.

“The unlawful targeted surveillance of human rights defenders and civil society is a tool of repression. It is time to clamp down on this industry that continues to operate in the shadows,” Amnesty Tech’s deputy director Danna Ingleton said in a statement.

The company has rejected accusations that its snooping software helped lead to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, perhaps the highest-profile case so far. It maintains that its sales undergo a rigorous ethical vetting process and that Pegasus spyware is sold to governments only for security purposes.

In November, the U.S. government blacklisted NSO Group and Apple sued it and notified Pegasus victims. Facebook has sued NSO Group over the use of a somewhat similar exploit that allegedly intruded via its globally popular encrypted WhatsApp messaging app.

The reports by Citizen Lab and iLaw do not accuse any specific government actor but say the use of Pegasus indicates the presence of a government operator. When news that dissidents had been targeted first surfaced in November 2021, the government denied the allegations.

Apple said it sought a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services or devices to “to prevent further abuse and harm to its users.”

Apple’s notifications to customers of spyware infections are a crucial part of a defense strategy against such digital surveillance, Scott-Railton said.

“Apple did something remarkable by notifying the recipients of this suspected targeting. If you look at the infection online, it stopped after Apple’s notification,” he said. “It was a very consequential thing.”

The cybersecurity experts said that turning off and restarting a device can break the spyware’s digital connection. Security updates also have helped to close the loopholes such attackers exploit.

“Layering up defenses on devices is very important,” Scott-Railton said. “Anything is better than nothing.”

But the spyware is constantly being updated and it is designed to be difficult to spot, facilitating surveillance by governments that have found it a useful tool for suppressing dissent.

Thailand’s student-led pro-democracy movement ramped up activities in 2020, largely in reaction to the continuing influence of the military in government and hyper-royalist sentiment.

The movement was able to attract crowds of as many as 20,000-30,000 people in Bangkok in 2020 and had followings in major cities and universities.

“There is longstanding evidence showing Pegasus presence in Thailand, indicating that the government would likely have had access to Pegasus during the period in question,” researchers said in the report. The over 30 individuals targeted were also “of intense interest to the Thai government.”

The army in 2014 overthrew an elected government, and Prayuth Chan-ocha, the coup leader, was named prime minister after a 2019 general election put in power a military-backed political party. Protesters have campaigned for Prayuth and his government to step down and demanded reforms to make the monarchy more accountable and to amend the constitution to make it more democratic.
Newsletter

Related Articles

Hong Kong News
Close
0:00
0:00
China has declined the US's request for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to speak with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe after the US Air Force shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon, according to the Pentagon
The five largest oil companies in the West generated combined profits of nearly $200 billion in 2022, which has led to increased calls for governments to impose tougher windfall taxes
2 earthquakes in Turkey killed over 2,300 people
Powerful Earthquake Strikes Turkey and Syria, Killing More Than 1,300 People.
Turkish photographer Ugur Gallenkus portrays two different worlds within a single image. Brilliant work
Charlie Munger, calls for a ban on cryptocurrencies in the US, following China's lead
Hong Kong airlines taking bold action after the years of pandemic lockdown and travel restrictions, to make Hong Kong great again
EU found a way to use frozen Russian funds
First generation unopened iPhone set to fetch more than $50,000 at auction.
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT - US Memphis Police murdering innocent Tyre Nichols
Almost 30% of professionals say they've tried ChatGPT at work
Interpol seeks woman who ran elaborate exam cheating scam in Singapore
Chinese search giant Baidu to launch ChatGPT like AI chatbot.
What is ChatGPT?
Bill Gates is ‘very optimistic’ about the future: ‘Better to be born 20 years from now...than any time in the past’
China is opening up for foreign investors.
Tesla reported record profits and record revenues for 2022
Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre Photo Is Fake: Ghislaine Maxwell
Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin Gets Married On His 93rd Birthday
Federal Reserve Probes Goldman’s Consumer Business
China's first population drop in six decades
Microsoft is finalising plans to become the latest technology giant to reduce its workforce during a global economic slowdown
China's foreign ministry branch in Hong Kong urges British gov't to stop the biased and double standards Hong Kong report
China relaxes 'red lines' on property sector borrowing in policy pivot
Tesla slashes prices globally by as much as 20 percent
Japan prosecutors indict man for ex-PM Shinzo Abe murder
Vietnam removes two deputy PMs amid anti-corruption campaign
1.4 Million Copies Of Prince Harry's Memoir 'Spare' Sold On 1st Day In UK
After Failing To Pay Office Rent, Twitter May Sell User Names
FIFA president questioned by prosecutors
Britain's Sunak breaks silence and admits using private healthcare
Hype and backlash as Harry's memoir goes on sale. Unnamed royal source says prince 'kidnapped by cult of psychotherapy and Meghan'
China’s recovery could add 1% to Australia’s GDP: JPMorgan 
Saudi Arabia set to overtake India as fastest-growing major economy this year 
China vows to strengthen financial support for enterprises: official
International medical experts speak out against COVID-19 restrictions on China
2 Billion People To Travel In China's "Great Migration" Over Next 40 Days
Google and Facebook’s dominance in digital ads challenged by rapid ascent of Amazon and TikTok
Flight constraints expected to weigh on China travel rebound
Billionaire Jack Ma relinquishes control of Ant Group
FTX fraud investigators are digging deeper into Sam Bankman-Fried's inner circle – and reportedly have ex-engineer Nishad Singh in their sights
Teslas now over 40% cheaper in China than US
TikTok CEO Plans to Meet European Union Regulators
UK chaos: Hong Kong emigrants duped by false prospectus
China seeks course correction in US ties but will fight ‘all forms of hegemony’, top diplomat Wang Yi says
China will boost spending in 2023
African traders welcome end of China’s Covid travel curbs
France has banned the online sale of paracetamol until February, citing ongoing supply issues
Japan reportedly to give families 1 million yen per child to move out of Tokyo
Will Canada ever become a real democracy?
×