Ethiopian’s penchant for commercial spyware is notorious, as is its pattern of digital espionage against journalists, activists, and other entities—many of which are based overseas—that seek to promote government accountability and are therefore viewed as political threats. Yet the Ethiopian government and others like it have faced little pressure to cease this particular strain of digital targeting.
I am a Senior Research Fellow at Citizen Lab, a co-founder of Bahrain Watch, and a Postdoctoral Researcher at UC Berkeley, where I received my PhD in Computer Science under the advisorship of Vern Paxson. My work focuses on novel technological threats to Internet freedom, including new censorship and surveillance tools. My expertise is in Internet scanning and conducting digital investigations. Coverage of my work has been featured in Vanity Fair, the New York Times, the Washington Post, on CNN, and on Larry King.
This report describes how Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins. Targets include a US-based Ethiopian diaspora media outlet, a PhD student, a lawyer, and even a Citizen Lab researcher.
This report discusses the targeting of Egyptian NGOs by Nile Phish, a large-scale phishing campaign. Almost all of the targets we identified are also implicated in Case 173, a sprawling legal case brought by the Egyptian government against NGOs, which has been referred to as an “unprecedented crackdown” on Egypt’s civil society. Nile Phish operators demonstrate an intimate knowledge of Egyptian NGOs, and are able to roll out phishing attacks within hours of government actions, such as arrests.