Apple warns Thai activists that they are targets of ‘state-sponsored’ attackers

Apple warns Thai activists that they are targets of ‘state-sponsored’ attackers
‘These attackers are likely targeting you individually because of who you are or what you do’

At least seven activists who had called for the reform of the monarchy in Thailand have alleged that their phones had been targets of “state-sponsored attackers.”

Apple reportedly sent warning messages to activists Arnon Nampa and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, who are in pre-trial detention after leading protests for abolishing the monarchy.

Prajak Kongkirati, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, said he had received two emails from Apple saying it believed his iPhone and iCloud accounts had been targeted. He added that a “threat notification” was issued to his Apple account.

Others critical of the Thai government, such as researcher Sarinee Achananuntakul and activist Yingcheep Atchanont of Legal Monitoring group iLaw, said they received similar emails.

Rapper Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, who is a part of the group “Rap Against Dictatorship” posted a screengrab of the email he received on Facebook.

“Apple believes you are being targeted by state-sponsored attackers who are trying to remotely compromise the iPhone…These attackers are likely targeting you individually because of who you are or what you do,” the email read. “If your device is compromised by a state-sponsored attacker, they may be able to remotely access your sensitive data, communications, or even the camera and microphone.”

Anti-government protests began in 2019 in Thailand after courts banned the most vocal party opposing the government of former junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Apart from calls for reforming the monarchy, protesters have also criticised the Thai government for the management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, similar warning alerts were sent to two Ghanaian political activists, an opposition politician in Uganda, and a dozen journalists from Salvador on Wednesday.

The warnings come on the heels of Apple’s lawsuit against Israeli cyber firm NSO Group and its parent company OSY Technologies for alleged surveillance and targeting of users with its military-grade Pegasus spyware.

The malware, which is among the most sophisticated in the world, can turn most phones into a spying device enabling the extraction of messages and data as well as secretly activating microphones and cameras.

Apple said on Tuesday that the NSO group had created “state-sponsored surveillance technology” that had been aimed at a “very small number of users”. However, it was not immediately clear if the alerts were issued for a similar Pegasus attack.

Internet security watchdog group Citizen Lab had in 2018 identified a Pegasus spyware operator active within Thailand.

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