When Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, the secretary-general of socio-political Progressive Movement, received an e-mail from Apple in November informing him that he may be a target of state-sponsored attackers, he thought it was just junk mail, reports the Bangkok Post
. However, when Piyabutr spoke with fellow Thai activists, he learned he was not alone. They had also received similar warning emails.
At least 30 academics, advocates, and pro-democracy activists in Thailand had their Apple iPhones hacked between 2020 and 2021 with the super-sneaky Pegasus software program, said a pair of reports recently
released in Bangkok by Canada’s Citizen Lab and two Thai rights groups: the Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) and DigitalReach.
“The majority of the targeted individuals have roles in the 2020-2021 pro-democracy protests that demanded political and monarchy reform,” said iLaw.
What sets Pegasus, developed by Israel’s NSO Group, apart from most other spyware is its “zero click” feature. It can infect a mobile phone — completely taking over the phone and gaining access to all its information and communications — without having to trick the user into taking any action.
It is not clear who is behind the attacks. But Citizen Lab said at least one of the Pegasus operators behind them was in Thailand as of July 18, reports VOA News
. The NSO Group has previously stated it sells only to government bodies.
iLaw’s program manager, Yingcheep Atchanont, said his own phone was hacked by the program ten times. He also told VOA News
that the Thai government would have the most to gain from the attacks.
Rights activists and groups have sounded the alarmed on the growing crackdown on dissidents in Thailand, where the use of repressive laws, alongside other tools such as the Pegasus spyware, is not uncommon.