IPhones of Thai activists targeted by ‘state-sponsored attackers’, Apple warns

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BANGKOK – Apple Inc. on Wednesday issued alert messages to at least six Thai activists and researchers who criticized the government, warning it that their iPhones had been targeted by “state-sponsored attackers,” activists say and alerts reviewed by Reuters.

Apple and Thailand’s Digital Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prajak Kongkirati, a political scientist at Thammasat University in Bangkok, said he received two emails from Apple warning him that his iPhone and iCloud accounts had been targeted, as well as a “threat notification” on his Apple account.

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Researcher Sarinee Achananuntakul and Thai activist Yingcheep Atchanont from legal watch group iLaw said they had received similar emails, while a rapper, political activist and anti-government politician separately posted screenshots of screen of the same email on their social media accounts.

All are seen as critical of the Thai government.

The messages warned “if your device is compromised by a state-sponsored attacker, it may be able to remotely access your sensitive data, communications, or even the camera and microphone.” Apple on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Israeli cyber firm NSO Group and its parent company OSY Technologies for alleged monitoring and targeting of US Apple users with its Pegasus spyware.

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In a statement on Tuesday, Apple said the NSO Group has created “state-sponsored surveillance technology” for “a very small number of users.”

Apple’s alerts on Wednesday did not immediately state whether the company believed Thais were being targeted by Pegasus.

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

The Thai government is still ruled by the architects of a 2014 coup, who remain in power after a 2019 election which rivals say were in favor of the military.

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Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the coup leader, has denied the allegations but has faced months of anti-government protests.

Besides calls for more democracy, the government has also come under fire for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-Um and Fanny Potkin; editing by Ed Davies)

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