Privacy advocates around the globe are reeling after the revelation that Western cybersecurity companies had been selling advanced digital forensics and decryption programs to the civil war-torn country of Myanmar. It is feared that such programs will be used to disrupt or intercept sensitive information that could lead to the arrest of innocents or worse abuses.
Up to 40 companies are thought to have provided the government with cybersecurity and data forensics utilities that could potentially be used to spy on ordinary citizens. Most transactions occurred under the previous regime, which had been much more focused and dedicated to principles of democracy.
The news comes at a time when civilians are being forced to take up arms against military-backed aggressors who have killed an estimated 860 protestors in the last few months. Several factions of the Myanmar government have been accused of committing human rights abuses, making digital security all the more crucial to those resisting the military takeover.
Two of the software vendors have been identified as Canadian information management and cybersecurity companies, OpenText and Magnet Forensics. Both companies offer subscription-based software packages that perform high-throughput web data analysis. In addition to providing device decryption software, Magnet Forensics sell software packages designed to monitor internet activity, create forensic images of any device and collect any traces of digital evidence left behind on a computer.
Screenshot from the Magnet Forensics website “Our Story” page.
Both companies said they have terminated ties with the government of Myanmar and would not renew agreements with them in the future.
Aung San Suu Kyi had been the nation’s de facto Prime Minister since 2016 before being deposed in a military junta on Feb. 1, 2021. Her party won more than 80% of seats in congress during the country’s last election, a result that did not sit well with military leaders. In response, a collection of charges was brought against Suu Kyi and she was deposed from her democratically-elected office. This ultimately resulted massive bloodshed that has left hundreds dead and thousands afraid for their lives.
Larry Jagan, an independent analyst on Myanmar told television network BTN, “There is little doubt that the game plan is to try and silence (Suu Kyi) to prevent her from having a political future in the country and to prevent her from having any influence on future elections.” The analyst also noted that the military’s actions were an “attack… at the core of the pro-democracy movement that she had spearheaded for decades.”
The charges brought against Suu Kyi in the military junta have grown since Feb. 1 to include the following:
- Violating virus restrictions during the election
- Breaching Natural Disaster Management Law
- Breaching Telecommunications Law
- Possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies
In response to the news about the software vendors, Coconet, a digital rights advocacy group, created a Myanmar digital security safety resource page for those in the country looking for secure communication alternatives.