Pakistan Hacks Human Rights Defenders’ Computers

In its latest report, “Human Rights Under Surveillance: Digital Threats against Human Rights Defenders in Pakistan” Amnesty International shows how “Human rights defenders in Pakistan are under threat from a targeted campaign of digital attacks, which has seen social media accounts hacked and computers and mobile phones infected with spyware. We uncovered an elaborate network of attackers who are using sophisticated and sinister methods to target human rights activists. Attackers use cleverly designed fake profiles to lure activists and then attack their electronic devices with spyware, exposing them to surveillance and fraud and even compromising their physical safety,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International. “Our investigation shows how attackers have used fake Facebook and Google login pages to trick their victims into revealing their passwords. It is already extremely dangerous to be a human rights defender in Pakistan and it is alarming to see how attacks on their work are moving online.”

 

Amnesty International found that “several human rights activists in Pakistan have been targeted in this way, sometimes by people claiming to be human rights activists themselves. Over the course of several months, Amnesty International used digital forensic techniques and malware analysis to identify the infrastructure and web pages connected to online attacks on human rights activists in Pakistan. Amnesty International’s Technology and Human Rights team has been able to trace these attacks to a group of individuals based in Pakistan. The report reveals a network of individuals and companies based in Pakistan that are behind the creation of some of the tools seen in surveillance operations used to target individuals in Pakistan.

 

The Amnesty report states that “These online attacks are taking place against the backdrop of a broader assault on Pakistani civil society. Over the past few months, Amnesty International has noted with alarm that activists are being subjected to threats, intimidation, violent attacks and enforced disappearances. They include journalists, bloggers, peaceful protesters and other mainstays of civil society. “As an elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, Pakistan has a responsibility to uphold the highest international standards. It has repeatedly vowed to protect human rights activists and criminalize enforced disappearances, but what we are seeing shows they have they done nothing on this front while the situation is getting worse,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali. “The Pakistani authorities must immediately order an independent and effective investigation into these attacks, and ensure that human rights defenders are protected both online and off.”

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