Apple has reportedly sent a threat notification alert to all the victims of state-sponsored hackers in El Salvador, Thailand, and Uganda, just hours after filing a lawsuit against Israeli spyware maker NSO Group.
Apple Sends Alert
At least 6 Thai activists and researchers who have been critical of the government have received the notification, according to Reuters, including Prajak Kongkirati, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, Sarinee Achananuntakul, a researcher, and Yingcheep Atchanont, a Thai activist of the legal monitoring group iLaw.
Citizen Lab, which tracks all of the illegal hacking and surveillance, identified in 2018 a Pegasus spyware operator that is active within Thailand, according to TechCrunch.
The alerts, which Apple said are created to inform and assist users who may have been targeted by state-sponsored attackers, were also sent to other users in El Salvador.
Also Read: NSO Group Among Several Digital Spy Companies For Hire: The Biggest Customers Are Governments And Law Enforcement Agencies
This includes 12 employees from El Faro, which is an online digital newspaper that has been notoriously critical of the government, as well as two leaders of civil society organizations and two opposition politicians.
Norbert Mao, the president of the Democratic Party in Uganda, also stated on Twitter that he had received the threat notification from Apple.
The alert from Apple warns users that it believes that the users are being targeted by state-sponsored attackers who are trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with specific Apple IDs.
These attackers are targeting users individually because of who they are or what they do. If the device is compromised by a state-sponsored attacker, then they may be able to remotely access sensitive data, communications, or even the microphone and camera.
While it is possible that it is a false alarm, Apple wants the users to take the warning seriously.
Apple Sues NSO Group
On Nov. 22, Apple sued NSO Group to seek a permanent injunction to prevent the Pegasus spyware maker from using any of the Apple products in their activity, according to BBC.
This would make it more difficult for NSO Group to find and exploit vulnerabilities in iPhone software and hack the targets.
Apple’s security chief Ivan Krstic said that the steps they are taking today would send a clear message that in a free society, it is not acceptable to weaponize powerful state-sponsored spyware against those who seek to make the world a better place.
Krstic added that Apple runs one of the most sophisticated security engineering operations in the world, and they will continue to work tirelessly to protect the users from abusive state-sponsored actors like NSO Group.
What is the Pegasus Spyware?
Pegasus is spyware developed by a private contractor for use by government agencies. The program infects a victim’s phone and sends back data, including messages, photos, audio, and video recordings, according to The Verge.
Pegasus’ developer, an Israeli company called NSO Group, says that the software can’t be traced back to the government using it, a crucial feature for clandestine operations.
In short, NSO Group makes products that allow governments to spy on people. The company describes the role of its products on its website as helping government intelligence and law-enforcement agencies use technology to meet the challenges of encryption during criminal investigations and terrorism.
As you might imagine, civil liberties groups are not happy about the spyware-for-hire business, and restricting the business to government clients does little to ease their concerns.
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Written by Sophie Webster
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