Amnesty International: Hackers attacking Vietnam dissidents

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In this Sept. 27, 2012, file photo, two students use computers at an internet cafe near their dormitory in Hanoi, Vietnam. Amnesty International has found that a hacking group known as Ocean Lotus has been staging more spyware attacks on Vietnamese human rights activists in the latest blow to freedom of speech in the communist-ruled country. AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen, File)

BANGKOK – Amnesty International says it has found that a hacking group known as Ocean Lotus has been staging more spyware attacks on Vietnamese human rights activists in the latest blow to freedom of speech in the communist-ruled country.

The human rights group said Wednesday that Amnesty Tech's Security Lab found evidence of the hacking attempts in phishing emails sent to two dissidents, one in the Philippines and one in Germany.

Cybersecurity firms earlier identified hacking attempts by Ocean Lotus targeting dissidents, governments and companies across Southeast Asia. The hackers are suspected of having ties to Vietnam's government, which has been cracking down on dissent.

Amnesty urged the Vietnamese government to investigate.

The report said that blogger and pro-democracy activist Bui Thanh Hieu was targeted with spyware at least four times between February 2018 and December 2019. He left Vietnam and has lived in Germany since 2013. It said another blogger based in Vietnam, who was not named due to fears for their safety, was targeted three times last year.

A Philippines-based nongovernmental organization, the Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment, or VOICE, was targeted by hackers in April 2020, the report said.

It said former staff and volunteers for VOICE were harassed, prevented from traveling and had their passports confiscated when they returned to Vietnam.

The Amnesty report also said the hacking efforts involved emails pretending to share an important document with a link to download a file.