Apple tells Thai activists they are the target of “state-sponsored attackers” | Thailand
Thai activists who have called for reform of the monarchy are among at least 17 people in Thailand who say they have been warned by Apple that they were the target of “state-sponsored” attackers.
Warnings have been sent to leading activists Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and Arnon Nampa, according to May, Panusaya’s sister and the administrator of the Arnon Facebook page. Panusaya and Arnon are in pre-trial detention after leading protests calling for a curb on the power of the monarchy.
Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, a rapper known as Hockhacker from Rap Against Dictatorship, said on Facebook that he also received an alert from Apple, and posted a screenshot of the post. The band’s music is aimed at the monarchy and military-backed government, and Dechathorn faces charges of sedition.
The message posted by Dechathorn read: “Apple thinks you are the target of state-sponsored attackers… These attackers are probably targeting you individually because of who you are or what you do. 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. Although it is possible that this is a false alarm, please take this warning seriously.
Less prominent activists who have worked behind the scenes to support pro-democracy protests have said they have received similar warnings, as have academics.
These include Prajak Kongkirati, political scientist at Thammasat University; Puangthong Pawakapan, political scientist at Chulalongkorn University; Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, opposition figure and secretary general of the Progressive Movement; and Yingcheep Atchanont, from the non-profit organization iLaw.
It is not known how many people have been contacted by Apple. At least 17 people have said on social media or directly to the Guardian that they have received similar messages.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment. It is not known how the alleged attack was carried out.
Separately, Apple announced this week that it has filed a lawsuit against NSO Group, claiming that its Pegasus software has been used to “attack a small number of Apple users around the world with malware and spyware.”
Project Pegasus, an investigation into NSO by the Guardian and other media coordinated by French media group Forbidden Stories, has documented dozens of cases where NSO spyware has been used to attack iPhone users.
Thailand’s Digital Ministry could not be reached for comment.
Elia Fofi, a Thai activist, said he received an email from Apple on Wednesday at 4 a.m., followed by a text at around 11 p.m. He said he did not consider himself a prominent protester, but other pro-democracy activists working behind the scenes had also been contacted by Apple.
The activists were not intimidated by the messages, Elia said. “We have nothing to fear. What we say, what we think, what we fight for is the most common thing there is. We are not committing a terrorist attack.
But he said an attack on their privacy was an attack on the privacy of the public at large. “People will be afraid to talk about things they want to talk about in private,” he said.
Last year, a wave of youth protests shattered a long-standing taboo by calling for reforms to the monarchy, an institution previously seen as banned. Protesters demanded that the royal budget be cut and demanded that the king not interfere with politics. They also called for the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former general who came to power in a coup.
At least 1,636 people have been charged because of their political activities or political expression since the escalation of protests in July 2020, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. More than 150 people face lèse majesté charges, up to 15 years in prison.
Nattacha Boonchaiinsawat, MP for the opposition Move Forward party, asked Prayuth to clarify whether the government was involved in the attacks. “I would also like to ask the Minister of Digital How the government is protecting Thai citizens and how it will take action against those behind the attacks. It is not a personal problem, but it is national security where the government should take responsibility and protect the people.