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Rights Group: Vietnamese Government-linked Group Is Hacking Activists

In this Jan. 23, 2021, file photo, a woman wearing face mask looks at her phone. Amnesty International has found that a hacking group known as Ocean Lotus has been digitally attacking Vietnamese human rights activists in the communist-ruled country. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh, File)
Rights Group Says a Vietnamese Government-linked Group Is Hacking Activists
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A human rights group says it has found evidence showing Vietnamese human rights activists are being attacked online by hackers.

Amnesty International is a non-governmental organization that supports human rights around the world.

The organization said the attacks are from Ocean Lotus, a group that targets individuals, governments and companies across Southeast Asia. The group is suspected of having ties to Vietnam's Communist government.

Amnesty Tech’s Security Lab reported on its findings Wednesday. It said it found evidence of hackers trying to steal information from two activists: one in the Philippines and another one in Germany.

FILE - Two students use computers at an internet cafe near their dormitory in Hanoi, Vietnam, September 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)
FILE - Two students use computers at an internet cafe near their dormitory in Hanoi, Vietnam, September 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)

Bui Thanh Hieu is a blogger and pro-democracy activist. He was targeted with spyware at least four times. Computer programs that permit hackers to secretly steal a person’s information are known as spyware. In 2013, Hieu left Vietnam for Germany.

The second blogger was not named over safety concerns. That person was targeted three times last year.

Vietnam is a single-party country ruled by the Communist Party. The government heavily restricts freedom of speech. Individuals who speak out against the government can face punishment.

The Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment is a non-profit organization based in the Philippines. It was targeted by hackers in April 2020, Amnesty reported. Former employees and volunteers were harassed, prevented from traveling and had their passports taken away from them when they returned to Vietnam.

Hackers use spyware to steal people's information.
Hackers use spyware to steal people's information.

Amnesty also said it found that Ocean Lotus created emails meant to trick people into opening files in an effort to hack information. In addition, the rights group added: “More recently, Ocean Lotus was found to have created fake online media websites based on content taken from official news websites.”

The internet security company Volexity found that Ocean Lotus is Vietnam-based. It has been linked to attack campaigns on the media, human rights groups and some Asian countries since 2013.

Amnesty has urged the Vietnamese government to investigate these claims.

I’m Armen Kassabian.

Armen Kassabian adapted this Associated Press story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

hackers – n. a person who secretly gets access to a computer system in order to get information, cause damage,

spyware – n. computer software that secretly records information about the way you use your computer

harassed – v. to annoy or bother (someone) in a constant or repeated way

fake –adj. meant to look real but not real or genuine; false

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