Ethiopian officials have renewed their campaign of collecting intelligence against government critics abroad through the use of commercial spyware, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said [press release] Wednesday.
According to Citizen Lab [website], an independent research group in Toronto, Ethiopia, along with other countries such as the US and UK, are spying [report] on government critics through a spyware company, Cyberbit [website], by attaching documents in emails disguised as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins. If successful, these attachments infect the receiving computer with spyware, which can enable the spyware’s operator to access virtually any information that is on the computer, take screenshots, enable the computer’s microphone, and activate the computer’s camera for heightened surveillance.
Citizen Lab’s report specifically focused on Ethiopia, which identified several targets who received phishing emails, including several ethnic Oromo activists and scholars, one of Citizen Lab’s research fellows, and an Oromo activist and executive director of the US-based Oromia Media Network (OMN). The OMN is an independent media network that covers current events in Oromia, Ethiopia, and it played an important part in disseminating information during protests [JURIST report] that occurred in Ethiopia in 2015 and 2016. Citizen Lab’s report showed that the government has gone to great lengths to restrict OMN and other media outlets.
HRW calls on the Ethiopian government, which has a history of using surveillance technologies to facilitate human rights violations, to cease digital attacks on its critics.