NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware Used against Thailand Pro-Democracy Activists and Leaders
Yet another basic human rights violation, courtesy of NSO Group: Citizen Lab has the details:
- We discovered an extensive espionage campaign targeting Thai pro-democracy protesters, and activists calling for reforms to the monarchy.
- We forensically confirmed that at least 30 individuals were infected with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.
- The observed infections took place between October 2020 and November 2021.
- The ongoing investigation was triggered by notifications sent by Apple to Thai civil society members in November 2021. Following the notification, multiple recipients made contact with civil society groups, including the Citizen Lab.
- The report describes the results of an ensuing collaborative investigation by the Citizen Lab, and Thai NGOs iLaw, and DigitalReach.
- A sample of the victims was independently analyzed by Amnesty International’s Security Lab which confirms the methodology used to determine Pegasus infections.
NSO Group has denied any wrongdoing and maintains that its products are to be used “in a legal manner and according to court orders and the local law of each country.” This justification is problematic, given the presence of local laws that infringe on international human rights standards and the lack of judicial oversight, transparency, and accountability in governmental surveillance, which could result in abuses of power. In Thailand, for example, Section 112 of the Criminal Code (also known as the lèse-majesté law), which criminalizes defamation, insults, and threats to the Thai royal family, has been criticized for being “fundamentally incompatible with the right to freedom of expression,” while the amended Computer Crime Act opens the door to potential rights violations, as it “gives overly broad powers to the government to restrict free speech [and] enforce surveillance and censorship.” Both laws have been used in concert to prosecute lawyers and activists, some of whom were targeted with Pegasus.
A few months ago, Ronan Farrow wrote a really good article on NSO Group and its problems. The company was itself hacked in 2021.
L3Harris Corporation was looking to buy NSO Group, but dropped its bid after the Biden administration expressed concerns. The US government blacklisted NSO Group last year, and the company is even more toxic than it was as a result—and a mess internally.
In another story, the nephew of jailed Hotel Rwanda dissident was also hacked by Pegasus.
EDITED TO ADD (7/28): The House Intelligence Committee held hearings on what to do about this rogue industry. It’s important to remember that while NSO Group gets all the heat, there are many other companies that do the same thing.
John-Scott Railton at the hearing:
If NSO Group goes bankrupt tomorrow, there are other companies, perhaps seeded with U.S. venture capital, that will attempt to step in to fill the gap. As long as U.S. investors see the mercenary spyware industry as a growth market, the U.S. financial sector is poised to turbocharge the problem and set fire to our collective cybersecurity and privacy.