A Thai rapper vowed not to be silenced yesterday after he and at least five other government critics received messages from Apple warning that state-sponsored hackers could be targeting their phones.
The US tech giant warned the Thai activists that, if successful, the hackers could remotely access their data and even the camera and microphone on their iPhones.
The warnings came after Apple sued NSO Group, the Israeli spyware maker at the center of the Pegasus surveillance scandal, seeking to block it from targeting iPhones.
Dechathorn “Hockhacker” Bamrungmuang, from the group Rap Against Dictatorship, posted a screenshot of the message to his Facebook page on Wednesday.
“Apple believes you are being targeted by state sponsored attackers who are trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with your Apple ID,” the message warned.
“These attackers are likely targeting you individually because of who you are or what you do.”
Dechathorn, who has previously been arrested and released for sedition, said he was “appalled” by the hacking attempt.
“We [Rap Against Dictatorship] will probably write a song about this,” Dechathorn said. “I think the state won’t stop at this.”
The rap group took a high-profile role in the youth-led protests that shook Bangkok last year, demanding the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who came to power in a 2014 coup.
Asked about the messages from Apple, Thai Deputy Secretary-General to the Prime Minister Anucha Burapachaisri said: “If it is authentic, the Digital Economy and Society Ministry will look into this.”
Writer Sarinee Achavanuntakul, Thammasat University political scientist Prajak Kongkirati, filmmaker Elia Fofi, and human rights lawyer Yingcheep Atchanont all shared the same warnings on their social media pages.
The sixth target was believed to be a human rights lawyer, while local media reported that a further two activists and academics had been affected.
Sarinee wrote that it was terrifying the hack had exploited a system vulnerability to embed “spyware into the iPhone itself without the owner’s knowledge.”
It was not immediately clear whether the Thai warnings were linked to the Pegasus scandal, but on Tuesday Apple said it was notifying users it believed had been targeted.
The Pegasus spyware essentially turns smartphones into pocket spying devices, allowing hackers to see a target’s messages and photos, track locations and turn on cameras without their knowledge.
Fresh concerns were raised in September when Apple released a fix for a weakness that allowed NSO’s spyware to infect devices without users clicking on a malicious message or link.
The so-called “zero-click” attack can silently corrupt the targeted device and was identified by researchers at Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog organization in Canada.
Human rights groups have long criticized the Thai government for silencing, harassing and arresting critics.
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