Amnesty says 'govt phishing' endangers Egypt activists


London (AFP)

Amnesty International warned Wednesday that dozens of rights activists in Egypt have been put in "grave danger" by email phishing attacks that it says appear to be government orchestrated.

"Dozens of Egyptian human rights defenders have been targeted by phishing attacks... this year, putting them in grave danger", the group said in a statement.

"These digital attacks appear to be part of a sustained campaign to intimidate and silence critics" of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government, said Ramy Raoof, a tactical technologist at Amnesty.

The London-based rights group said the "chilling" attempted attacks had used a technique known as OAuth phishing and that there were "strong indications" the Egyptian authorities were responsible.

It said the tactic masquerades as an email containing a legitimate application -- such as a calendar organiser -- to trick activists into downloading spyware.

Amnesty pointed to spikes in OAuth phishing attempts in the run-up to the eight-year anniversary of Egypt's January 25, 2011 uprising which toppled Hosni Mubarak, and during a two-day visit to Egypt by French President Emmanuel Macron.

It said attacks peaked on January 29, the day Macron met human rights activists from four key Egyptian NGOs.

Sisi's government is pursuing a military campaign against the Islamic State group in northern Sinai.

As army chief, Sisi led the overthrow of Egypt's first freely elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 after mass street protests against the Islamist leader's rule.

But alongside his crackdown on Islamist opponents, Amnesty and other rights groups have repeatedly accused Sisi of brooking no dissent from secular, liberal and leftist activists.