Cyber attacks on human rights groups are nothing new but in Thailand, when it comes to target activities things have become officially sophisticated. According to Thailand’s legal rights watchdog iLaw and Toronto-based Citizen Lab, Tel Aviv-based NSO Group’s powerful Pegasus spyware was used to hack the iPhones of around 30 pro-democracy Thai activists and supporters.

Who was Impacted?

Most of the victims of hacking were dissidents participating in the pro-democracy movement and demanded reforms in the monarchy. The youngest victim was eighteen. This includes lawyer-activist Arnon Nampa, rapper Dechatorn Bamrungmuang aka Hockhacker, student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, actress-activist Inthira Charoenpura, and academic Prajak Kongkirati.

Apple Warned About the Spyware

According to The Washington Post, the iPhones of Thai protestors were infected with Pegasus, and Apple had already warned them about it. For your information, Pegasus spyware can crack Android and iPhone encryption.

iLaw stated that the tool was used during street protests in 2020-2021, where Thai protestors demanded Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s ouster. The hacking was revealed after Apple notified the victims about the presence of spyware on their phones.

According to reports, the warning messages were sent in November 2021, prompting Thai recipients to contact civic organizations, and iLaw and more victims were located later on. It is worth noting that this is the first time Pegasus spyware was used against Thai citizens.

On the other hand, Amnesty Thailand released the following statement, confirming and condemning the use of Pegasus against Thai protestors.

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“We can now officially add Thailand to the growing list of countries where people peacefully calling for change, expressing an opinion, or discussing government policies may trigger invasive surveillance with a profound toll on an individual’s freedom of expression, privacy, and sense of security.”

Etienne Maynier- Amnesty Thailand

How Pegasus Hacks iPhones?

For your information, Pegasus is powerful spyware sold to law enforcement and governments. NSO Group purchases unidentified zero-day security vulnerabilities from hackers, and the spyware then mounts zero-click exploits without involving user interaction.

Hacking an iPhone requires the attacker to send a specially designed iMessage. Even if the recipient doesn’t open or interact with it, the message can compromise the iPhone and expose personal data. This attack is called a “zero-click iMessage exploit.”

So far, Pegasus spyware has hacked the iPhones of US State Department Officials, Prime Ministers, Senior European Union officials, lawyers, journalists, including Jamal Khashoggi, and human rights activists. The US government has banned the use or import of Pegasus.

Amnesty Thailand wants local authorities to launch a thorough, prompt, and independent investigation into the incident.

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