Activists, academics received ‘state-sponsored attackers’ warnings

Several pro-democracy activists and academics have reported receiving an email from Apple warning them that “state-sponsored attackers” are targeting their devices.

Activist Elia Fofi, a member of the artists’ network Free Arts, said on Wednesday (24 November) that he received an email from Apple saying that it believes that he is being targeted by state-sponsored attackers who are “trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with [his] Apple ID” and that, if the device is compromised, these attackers may have access to “sensitive data, communications, or even the camera and microphone.”

Other activists also received the same warning, including We Volunteer member Rattaphum Lertpaijit, United Front of Thammasat Demonstration member Chayapol Danotai, Coalition of Salaya for Democracy member Chatrapee Artsomboon, and iLaw manager Yingcheep Atchanont.

Rap Against Dictatorship member Dechatorn Bamrungmuang, or “Hockhacker,” also said that he received the warning email. Several academics also said that they received the warning, including Puangthong Pawakapan, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University; political scientist and Progressive Movement member Piyabutr Saengkanokkul; Prajak Kongkirati, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University; and independent researcher Sarinee Achavanuntakul.

Sarinee speculated that, while the email did not specify which spyware was used, it is likely to be Pegasus, made by the Israeli NSO Group and said to be mostly used by governments, armed forces, and intelligence agencies.

Apple issued a press release on Tuesday (24 November) stating that it has filed a lawsuit against the NSO Group and its parent company “to hold it accountable for the surveillance and targeting of Apple users” and is seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using Apple products.

Apple said that Pegasus spyware attacks are aimed at “a very small number of users” and that there are reports of this spyware being used against journalists, activists, dissidents, academics, and government officials.

The press release also said that Apple is notifying the targeted users and that it will continue to do so whenever it discovers activities likely to be state-sponsored attacks.

The warning messages received by the activists recommended that they update their devices to iOS 15.1.1, which is believed to be capable of preventing attacks, and to keep updating to the latest software, or contact an expert.


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