OSLO, Norway -- One of the first times hackers tried to infiltrate Danny O'Brien through his email inbox, it was in the guise of a human-rights event invitation from what appeared to be a friend.
"It included a PDF, which, when clicked on, would log all your keystrokes, record audio, and download documents from your hard drive," said O'Brien, the international director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who has since found himself a repeat target of cyber attacks.
(He didn't click on it, luckily.)
Such "spear-phishing" attempts -- which take the form of an email from a hacker posing as an acquaintance -- are hardly rare among human-rights workers. Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of Tibet, told an audience at the Oslo Freedom Forum last week that once, after arranging an interview with aTime journalist, he received a follow-up email with an attachment titled "interview questions."
He called the reporter, who said no email had ever been sent.
"The Chinese government tries to monitor me, destroy my computer, make my life difficult," Sangay said.
Spear-phishing attempts represent just one of the many kinds of cyber attacks that government agents are increasingly deploying in order to keep tabs on dissidents.