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Serbia: Civil society threatened by spyware

Together with civil society partners the SHARE Foundation, Access Now, and the Citizen Lab, Amnesty International can reveal that sophisticated spyware is being used to target civil society in yet another European country  – Serbia.

Last month, Apple shared a new round of threat notifications globally, notifying iPhones users who may have been targeted by “state-sponsored attackers”. Among the recipients were two members of Serbian civil society who approached the SHARE Foundation, a Serbian digital rights NGO for digital security support.

The SHARE Foundation coordinated with Amnesty International’s Security Lab and Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline to help independently check both devices for possible traces of spyware.

Analysis by Amnesty International’s Security Lab confirmed that both mobile devices showed evidence consistent with targeting by advanced spyware tools in August 2023. It is not currently possible to confirm the exact spyware tool used in these two failed attack attempts. However, forensic traces observed on both devices are consistent with attack techniques previously used to deliver the Pegasus spyware.

Separately, Amnesty International research has identified evidence that the Pegasus spyware has been used to target other civil society members in Serbia in recent months.

An independent forensic analysis of both devices by Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline in collaboration with the Citizen Lab concurred with the findings of the Security Lab.

Mercenary surveillance companies continue to profit at the expense of human rights all around the world with almost complete impunity. In October, Amnesty International research as part of the Predator Files investigation revealed the catastrophic failure of European countries to regulate the surveillance trade.

Amnesty International is calling for all countries to ban highly invasive spyware, which cannot be independently audited or limited in its functionality.

The Security Lab will continue to monitor and provide support to civil society around the world who are concerned about spyware attacks and unlawful digital surveillance. If you are a human rights defender, activist or journalist who has received a similar security alert from Apple or other platforms, contact us for digital forensics support.