Cairo: Dozens of Egyptian activists, rights defenders and journalists have been targeted by digital phishing attacks in the last two months, likely by their own government, an international rights group said on Wednesday.
Amnesty International said it analysed dozens of suspicious emails and that the attacks appear "to be part of a sustained campaign to intimidate and silence critics" of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi's government.
The London-based group said the phishing attacks spiked during key political moments, such as the run-up to the January anniversary of Egypt's 2011 uprising against autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, as well as a visit later that month by French President Emmanuel Macron.
"These chilling attempts to target them online pose yet another threat to their vital work," Ramy Raoof, a technology specialist at Amnesty, said about the scams on activists, journalists and non-governmental groups.
"There are strong indications that the Egyptian authorities are behind these attacks," he said.
Phishing attacks attempt to trick people into sharing sensitive information such as passwords and usernames, often by inducing them to click on a bogus link or by pretending to be a trusted entity.
Egypt under el-Sisi has waged a massive crackdown on dissent in recent years, rolling back freedoms won by the 2011 uprising and placing draconian restrictions on demonstrations and the work of rights groups.
A government spokesman was not immediately available to comment, and no one was answering calls at the Interior Ministry seeking comment.
Amnesty said the emails were sent between 18 January and 13 February, using a technique known as OAuth Phishing to gain access to private accounts.
Amnesty recorded 11 phishing attacks against NGOs and media outlets ahead of the 25 January uprising anniversary. Another burst of attacks came during Macron's visit, peaking on 29 January, the day he met with several Egyptian human rights defenders, Amnesty said.
The group said several media organisations were targeted in the first week of February. Many of them were reporting on the recent process to amend the country's constitution and extend presidential terms in office, allowing el-Sisi to stay in power possibly until 2034.
Egypt's parliament, packed by el-Sisi supporters, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the package of constitutional amendments on 14 February. The changes must be finalised by a special legislative committee for a decision within two months, followed by a nationwide referendum, likely before early May.
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Updated Date: Mar 06, 2019 18:02:42 IST