In this Conversations on Groong episode, we’ll be talking about the Internet censorship bill proposed in Armenia before the new year. We’ll also talk about the threat and activity of some Cyber spying malware in Armenia, such as the Israeli Pegasus software, which represents a threat to journalists and freedom of expression.
Guest: Artur Papyan, malware researcher, digital security consultant, co-founder of CyberHub and director of the Media DIversity Institute.
Episode 229 | Recorded: February 24, 2023
On December 22, 2022 the Armenian ministry of justice caused a big commotion among the media community by publishing a proposal for legislative changes that would effectively allow the government to censor the internet completely or partially in the event of martial law. The deadline for submitting comments was Armenian Christmas, January 6, 2023, approximately 10 work days (with NY in between).
This is not the first time Pashinyan’s government has sought the power to censor the press and information flow to the people. If you recall, back in July ‘22, outgoing prosecutor general Arthur Davtyan’s outgoing slap at the people was a recommendation to the government to enact such a law.
Anyway, the proposal was slammed by international watchdogs such as Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and even the Armenian government’s then ombudswoman, Kristine Grigoryan. Armenia’s Union of Journalists also deplored the proposal, and strongly urged the government to rework it. The CPJ did not mince words, they said “The Armenian authorities should not use military conflicts as an excuse to curtail press freedom”.
Your NGO, Media Diversity Initiative, also officially responded to this proposal.
One recent event corroborated your observation: two weeks ago when Armenia was downgraded in Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perception Index ranking, Pashinyan blamed the Armenian media for it!
The NGO you’re part of, Cyber Hub, has made announcements recently that hundreds of Armenian journalists, politicians and even civil servants were targets of malicious activity with Pegasus and Predator. Google, Microsoft, and other large tech companies have also in the past warned about the activity of nation state actors against Armenian targets.
Your other NGO, Media Diversity Institute, has also been on the record documenting cases of attacks against Journalism and media freedom.
This type of activity is associated with nation states, some example cases are described by Amnesty International, which has done extensive forensics to combat Pegasus. More recently there have been questions around which nation states. Certain security analysts argue that because the Israeli company NSO Group, which sells Pegasus, usually restricts the usage to the territory of the government that acquires the solution, this must mean that Armenia can be the only licensee of the usage on Armenian territory, especially since it’s so widespread.
Recently, the company Checkpoint released a warning to users in Armenia about a new malware that is targeting users and apparently organized by a nation state actor.
Alright, we’ll leave it there for today! Thank you Arthur!
All right, that’s our show, we hope you found it useful. Please find us on Social Media and follow us everywhere you get your Armenian news, the links are in the show notes. Thanks to Laura Osborn for the music on our podcasts. We’ll talk to you soon!
Artur Papyan is a malware researcher, digital security consultant, co-founder of CyberHub and director of the Media DIversity Institute.
Asbed is founder of Groong and co-founder of the ANN/Groong podcast.
Hovik Manucharyan is an information security engineer who moved from Seattle to Armenia in 2022. He co-founded the ANN/Groong podcast in 2020 and has been a contributor to Groong News since the late 1990s.