Seven major Egyptian human rights and feminist NGOs have recently been a target of a large-scale online phishing campaign aimed at collecting personal information of the NGOs employees and other rights activists, the Egyptian Initiative Personal rights (EIPR) said on Thursday.
The Initiative's report, which is based on a study it asked the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab for Communication Technologies to conduct, EIPR stated that the Initiative and other six Egyptian NGOs as well Egyptian independent activists faced 92 online "phishing attacks" from 24 November 2016 to 31 January 2017.
The EIPR said the six other reported targets were against the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, Nazra for Feminist studies and another NGO that asked to remain anonymous.
"Phishing" is a way to steal personal information online like passwords and bank information through deception by sending phishing emails to deceive online users to enter their passwords in to fake websites which look legitimate such as a "home page" for Gmail or Facebook.
The EIPR report said the government "may stand" behind the attacks citing official notifications it received from Google at the time of the attacks warning some rights activists and groups that it had detected "government-backed attackers" attempting to steal their "Gmail password."
The report added that there is no law in Egypt that gives the authorities the right to "phish" citizens or hack their personal accounts.
EIPR said some of the individuals it believes were targeted in the phishing campaign are among those accused in the ongoing court case known in the media as "the illegal NGO foreign funding case."
The EIPR report also included screenshots of the reported attack attempts and what seemed like prompt warnings from Google to the targeted users.
The Initiative claimed that if proven correct, the government action represents another example of the authorities’ campaign to hinder the work of rights groups.
Ahram Online could not independently verify the methodology or the findings of the study.
The NGO funding case dates back to late 2011 when the Egyptian Ministry of Justice accused several NGOs of illegally receiving funds from foreign governments and institutions.
None of the accused were referred to court at the time.
In 2016, the prosecution reopened the case, adding more NGOs and activists to the list of the accused, and barring a number of rights activists from traveling while imposing a freeze on their assets.
Those added to the case include renowned rights activists Hossam Bahgat, a journalist and founder in 2004 of the Egyptian Initiative for Personnel Rights (EIPR), Bahy El-Din Hassan, the founder of Cairo Institute for Human Rights, Mozn Hassan, the founder of Nazra, and Azza Soleiman, the head of the Center for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance.