August 13, 2012 | By Eva Galperin

This Week In Internet Censorship: Activists Convicted in Oman, Malware in Nepal, and Wiretapping Bloggers in Russia

More Activists Convicted on Protest-Related Charges in Oman

The dozens of writers, activists, and bloggers who have been arrested on charges connected to their calls for greater freedoms in Oman in May and early June of 2012 have been brought to trial, convicted, and sentenced in recent weeks. The latest—a group of twelve activists—were sentenced on Wednesday in Oman’s capital, Muscat. Eleven were given a year’s prison and a 200 Riyal ($520) fine for participating in a peaceful protest. One was given a year’s prison sentence for insulting the Sultan. All twelve are expected to be released on bail pending appeal.

In June, seven other activists were given prison terms and fines, and more than twenty others were arrested in connection with protests calling for change. EFF will keep a close eye on the fate of these activists. If they wind up behind bars, EFF will join Amnesty International in calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

Nepalese Government Website Compromised, Altered to Serve Malware

Last week, Websense reported on its Security Labs Blog that its security researchers had detected the compromise of two Nepalese government websites (the National Information Technology Center and the Office of the Prime Minister and Council Minister), which had been altered to inject malicious code that, if successful, would install a backdoor called Zegost RAT onto the victim's computer. Zegost RAT has the ability to log keystrokes, steal data, run commands remotely, and send information back to a command and control server.

The same vulnerability was used in the compromise of the Amnesty International UK website and the Institute for National Security Studies site in Israel in May. The Websense report shows evidence that the attack against the Nepalese government websites may be connected to the attack against Amnesty International UK, and that both attacks send data back to a domain in China.

EFF has reported extensively on state-sponsored malware that targets activists and their supporters. We will continue to issue periodic advisories in order to help vulnerable users avoid infection.

Russian Government Wiretaps Dissident Blogger Alexei Navalny

When Russian anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny found a bug hidden inside the wall molding in his office last week, he was not surprised. Russian security services have a long history of extensive surveillance of activists and dissidents, especially those who was outspokenly critical of the Putin regime. Before calling the police, Navalny posted this video of himself and his colleagues taking the surveillance device apart.

Upon inspection, the police reportedly found a microphone as well as a hidden camera attached to a power source and a transmitter. Police could be heard on the video saying that the device was being operated remotely. Navalny has faced possible arrest, trial, and ten years in prison on charges stemming from an alleged embezzlement scheme, but which Navalny and his supporters claim is an attempt to silence him.

The wiretapping of Navalny is part of a broader trend of surveillance and intimidation of the Putin regime’s critics in Russia since his re-election as President. The Kremlin has stepped up the arrest of dissidents, including the punk band Pussy Riot and passed new laws aimed at curbing free speech on the Internet. EFF will continue to keep an eye on developments.


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