Human Rights Watch wants a statement from Saudi Arabia over allegations from security researchers that the kingdom is infecting and monitoring dissidents' mobile phones with surveillance malware. Toronto-based Citizen Lab claims that the Saudi government was mostly targeting individuals in Qatif district in Eastern Province. The region has seen sporadic Shiite-led protests since February 2011.
Cynthia Wong, HRW's senior Internet researcher said that Saudi authorities routinely crack down on online activists who have embraced social media to call out human rights abuses. The authorities may now be hacking into mobile phones, turning digital tools into just another way for the government to intimidate and silence independent voices. Citizen Lab have identified a malicious, altered version of an application providing mobile access to news related to Qatif, which if installed on a mobile phone infects it with spyware made by the Italian firm Hacking Team, which only sells to governments.
The spyware allows a government to see a phone's call history, text messages, contacts and emails and files from social media, HRW said. The spyware also allows authorities to turn on a phone's camera or microphone to take pictures or record conversations without the owner's knowledge.