From sophisticated spyware attacks to mass phishing via smartphones and the rise of facial recognition technology, the range and reach of surveillance threats to human rights defenders is growing.
For security teams trying to keep activists safe, it is a cat-and-mouse game as attackers rapidly adapt to developments aimed at protection.
“When cyber-attackers see people are switching to using (messaging app) Signal, for example, then they will try to target Signal. If people start changing to VPN technology, they will start blocking VPN technology. If people are using Tor browser, they will target Tor traffic,” says Ramy Raoof, tactical technologist with Amnesty Tech.
Raoof says one of the main focuses for 2020 will be tackling customized targeting of smartphones, which hit headlines in 2019. Last October, messaging app WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, launched a high-profile case against surveillance company NSO Group for spyware attacks on more than a thousand of its users.