A short message on Facebook

Not just trolling:

In December 2016 Diep Saeeda, an outspoken human rights activist from the Pakistani city of Lahore, received a short message on Facebook from someone she didn’t know but with whom she had a number of friends in common: “Hy dear.”

She didn’t think much of it and never got round to replying.

But the messages weren’t coming from a fan of Mrs Saeeda’s activism – instead they were the start of a sustained campaign of digital attacks attempting to install malware on her computer and mobile phone to spy on her and steal her data.

She got many more messages from that account, which pretended to be that of a young woman who worked for the UN doing human rights activity.

However, the attackers targeting Mrs Saeeda made crucial mistakes that allowed researchers from human rights group Amnesty International to trace a number of individuals linked either to the operation or to the malware used.

They include a British-Pakistani cyber security expert running a company he claims to be based in Wales, and another who used to work for the Pakistani army’s public relations wing.

Saeeda is quite sure intelligence agencies are behind it.

Amnesty International has spoken to three other Pakistan human rights activists who have been targeted in the same way.

They discovered that the main piece of malware being used had also been used in previously documented attacks on Indian military and diplomatic officials.

Amnesty International say they have no evidence of Pakistani state involvement and are unable to say who is ultimately responsible for conducting the attacks.

Sherif Elsayed-Ali, director of global issues at Amnesty, told the BBC they were calling on the Pakistani authorities to investigate the attacks “as a matter of urgency… and to ensure that human rights defenders are adequately protected both online and offline”.

Which seems rather like urging the fox to investigate attacks on the hen house.

In January 2017, a group of bloggers went missing for a number of weeks before being released. Two subsequently told the BBC that they had been detained by the security services and tortured.

Theocrats don’t like human rights activists.

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