Editors Who Exposed Corruption, Political Opponents of Authoritarian Government’s President, and Their Legal Teams Were Sent Malware
San Francisco—Journalists and political activists critical of Kazakhstan’s authoritarian government, along with their family members, lawyers, and associates, have been targets of an online phishing and malware campaign believed to be carried out on behalf of the government of Kazakhstan, according to a new report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Malware was sent to Irina Petrushova and Alexander Petrushov, publishers of the independent newspaper Respublika, which was forced by the government of Kazakhstan to stop printing after years of exposing corruption but has continued to operate online. Also targeted are family members and attorneys of Mukhtar Ablyazov, co-founder and leader of opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, as well as other prominent dissidents.
The campaign—which EFF has called “Operation Manul,” after endangered wild cats found in the grasslands of Kazakhstan—involved sending victims spearphishing emails that tried to trick them into opening documents which would covertly install surveillance software capable of recording keystrokes, recording through the webcam, and more. Some of the software used in the campaign is commercially available to anyone and sells for as little as $40 online.