Group closing in on Thailand ministers involved in Pegasus spyware scandal

The group behind the ground-breaking report revealing Thai democracy activists were targeted by the Israeli spyware Pegasus program, insists they are closing in on those behind the attacks.

Citizen Lab, iLaw, and DigitalReach, revealed Monday that 30 activists and academics from Thailand had their Apple iPhones hacked between 2020 and 2021 by Pegasus’ advanced software program.

Today the digital security experts and civil rights advocates made known their search for more targets continues, adding it is just the “tip of the iceberg.”

The Pegasus program can take complete control of a mobile phone and gain access to all of its information and communications. What sets Pegasus apart from other spyware is its ability to infect a phone without having to trick a user into taking any action.

The hacks first came to light last year, when Apple began notifying iPhone owners that their devices had been compromised.

Twenty-five of the targets in Thailand have all criticized the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to some extent.

One of the victims, Prajak Kongkirati, a political science scholar at Thailand’s Thammasat University, first dismissed Apple’s alert as spam. He said had no reason to suspect he would be a target of any spying. But admitted “it’s very scary,” when it was confirmed he had been hacked.

“It’s like the 1984 novel (by George Orwell). “But this is in real life, it’s really happening.”

The research team says it could not yet confirm who launched the attacks, but Citizen Lab said at least one of the Pegasus operators was in Thailand on Monday.

Citizen Lab’s John Scott-Railton said the team was continuing to search for more targets, and who is targeting them.

“We’re still investigating all aspects of this case. When you find evidence of this kind of targeting, it rarely stops here. For me, this is often a tip of the iceberg problem.”

The Israeli NSO Group has previously stated it sells its software only to government bodies, which points fingers at the Thai government. But when reports of the Pegasus hacks first surfaced last year, the Thai government denied any involvement.

The Thai police said Tuesday that they had “never used any spyware to violate anyone’s rights.”

Yet on the same day, the Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn contradicted the police at the censure debate saying he was aware of some “very limited” use of spyware by other government agencies, citing anti-narcotics operations as an example but giving no details.

Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, a prominent figure of Thailand’s pro-democracy movement, revealed she received Apple’s hacking alert when she was in prison awaiting trial on multiple charges of defaming the monarchy, each with the potential to have her jailed for up to 15 years.

Panusaya says she changed all her passwords, makes sure to keep her phone’s software up to date, and leaves the phone behind for “important conversations.”

“I hope that we can find out eventually who did this. I want them to be held responsible.”

SOURCE: Voan News

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Bob Scott

Bob Scott is an experienced writer and editor with a passion for travel. Born and raised in Newcastle, England, he spent more than 10 years in Asia. He worked as a sports writer in the north of England and London before relocating to Asia. Now he resides in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is the Editor-in-Chief for The Thaiger English News. With a vast amount of experience from living and writing abroad, Bob Scott is an expert on all things related to Asian culture and lifestyle.