Nine activists working for the release of those imprisoned after the Bhima Koregaon violence were targeted with malicious emails in 2019, an Amnesty International report in partnership with Citizen Lab has found.
Three of these nine were also targeted by Pegasus Software through their WhatsApp applications last year. The emails contained links that, when opened, install a spyware called NetWire.
“That some of these individuals were targeted multiple times shows that there is a disturbing pattern of spyware attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs) involved in the Bhima Koregaon case,” the report said.
The investigation found 12 “spearphishing” emails — personalised emails to convince targets to open spyware on their computer or mobile — between January and October 2019. In this case, the emails had attachments that resembled PDF documents but were actually a malicious Windows program that would install NetWire on the device. NetWire would allow the attacker to monitor the devices’ actions and communications.
“The spearphishing emails and spyware suggest that this is not a cyber-crime attack, but a spyware campaign trying to compromise devices of HRDs … Our investigation was not able to conclusively attribute the attack to a particular group with high confidence,” the report stated. The group called for a “full, independent and impartial investigation into these attacks, including by determining whether there are links between this spyware campaign and specific government agencies”.
The spyware called Netwire is available for purchase online for $15 a month and has been developed by a company called World Wired Labs in 2012.
The emails targeted 4Nihalsing B Rathod, Degree Prasad Chouhan, Yug Mohit Choudhary, Ragini Ahuja, Partho Sarothi Ray, P K Vijayan, an anonymous journalist, Isha Khandelwal and Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group.
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