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Apple warned pro-democracy protestors in Thailand

The latest Pegasus iPhone hack to come to light targeted more than 30 pro-democracy protestors. Apple detected that their phones had been infected by NSO’s spyware, and alerted them.

Thailand has been the subject of multiple military coups over the years, the most recent of which was in 2014, with an army-backed leader still in power today after elections widely believed to have been fraudulent …

Backgrounder on NSO’s Pegasus spyware

NSO Group makes spyware called Pegasus, which is sold to government and law enforcement agencies. The company purchases so-called zero-day security vulnerabilities (ones that are unknown to Apple) from hackers, and its software is capable of mounting zero-click exploits – where no user interaction is required by the target.

In particular, simply receiving a particular iMessage – without opening it or interacting with it in any way – can allow an iPhone to be compromised, with personal data exposed.

Prime ministersUS State Department officialssenior EU officialsjournalistslawyers, and human rights activists are among those whose iPhones have been hacked by Pegasus. 

The US government banned the import and use of Pegasus, depriving the company of its most lucrative customer base: US law enforcement agencies. Apple added to the pressure, suing the company, and alerting owners of infected iPhones.

NSO claims to exercise care in approving customers, but few believe it, and the company’s CEO wanted to tear up even the claimed rules under which it operated.

Thailand’s troubled history

Thailand was originally known as Siam, an absolute monarchy with the king in full control of the country. That changed with The Siamese Revolution in 1932, but tensions between the monarchy and government continued. In 1946, King Bhumibol Adulyadej became king, and his 70-year reign saw no fewer than 10 coups and 17 different constitutions.

The most recent coup was in 2014, when army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha took control of the country. Elections were held in 2019, but few believe they were fair, and there was little surprise when Prayuth’s party was declared the winner.

The following year, the opposition Future Forward Party was dissolved by a court, and criminal charges were laid against its founder, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

Pro-democracy campaigners, led mainly by students, are attempting to bring about a new constitution, and fair elections.

Latest Pegasus iPhone hack

The Washington Post reports that Apple detected NSO’s Pegasus spyware on the iPhones of more than 30 activists and supporters.

More than 30 Thai activists and supporters have been hacked with NSO Group’s potent Pegasus spyware, civil groups said late Sunday, in the first countrywide campaign brought to light because Apple warned targeted iPhone users.

Apple issued warnings to suspected Pegasus victims in November, prompting some of the Thai recipients to contact civic organizations that then consulted iLaw, a local human rights group that has advocated for a new constitution drafted by elected representatives. iLaw then helped locate more victims.

iLaw has released a new report identifying numerous hacking victims by name, including two of its own participants. Another report comes from the Toronto-based Citizen Lab, which analyzes digital traces left in mobile phones, and named Pegasus as an attack program to break into devices in 2020 and 2021. Amnesty International examined some of the phones using a different method and agreed with Citizen Lab’s conclusions […]

The Thais hit by Pegasus include five members and colleagues of FreeYouth, including Jutatip Sirikhan, a former student union president in Thailand; four members of WEVO, short for We Volunteer, which protects other groups in public action; and Bangkok University-based Four members of the united front of state affairs and demonstrations.

Human rights lawyer Anon Nampa, who has defended activists accused of breaking the law and insulting the king, has been infected multiple times

Photo: Clint Oka/Unsplash

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