Updated at 5:46 p.m. ET 2016-12-27
Officers are hunting for more suspected hackers who breached some 30 government websites as a show of dissent against Thailand’s newly amended Computer Crime Act, national police said Tuesday.
Police have charged one of nine suspects detained thus far, Natdanai Kongdee, 19, on allegations that he was involved in the hacking, among other offenses.
“Natdanai is a real culprit. Besides cracking data, he’d buy and sell guns on the Internet,” Pol. Gen. Chakthip Chaichinda told a press briefing on Monday. The suspect was charged with sabotage, computer crimes, possessing illegal weapons and possessing drugs.
Also on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters nine people had been taken into custody for questioning since the law was changed on Dec. 16.
The act was passed unanimously despite opposition from free speech groups. The next morning, nearly 30 government websites were hacked.
Facebook group “Citizens Against Single Gateway: Thailand Internet Firewall,” which opposes the Thai junta’s call for a single gateway for internet traffic, urged supporters to launch a series of cyber-attacks.
“The anti-computer crimes police are interrogating him [Natdanai]. He hacked many government’s websites. We are interrogating those who are involved and we will arrest all who are involved,” Pol. Maj. Gen. Piyapan Pingmaung, the deputy spokesman for national police, told BenarNews on Tuesday.
Last week, U.S.-based rights advocacy groups Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued statements criticizing the changes to the act as paving the way for Thailand’s military government to further restrict free speech and retaliate against activists.
CPJ said the junta has broadened internet censorship since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Oct. 13. Thai authorities had blocked access to 1,300 websites in the month following the king’s death over content deemed anti-royal – more sites than were censored in the previous five years combined, according to the Associated Press.
At the time, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who has led the government since the 2014 junta takeover, challenged claims by critics that the amendments would violate free speech rights.
“No one wants to police social media because it’s tiring,” Prayuth said at the time.
In a related development on Tuesday, Thai officials denied that the government had acquired facilities to breach the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. The SSL is an industry standard used by millions of websites to protect online transactions with customers.
“We did not purchase such a device. I control the purchase, there was not such purchase,” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit told reporters in Bangkok.
The Citizens Against Single Gateway Facebook page recently alleged that the Royal Thai Army had purchased four decryption devices. The group claimed it had hacked the information about the purchase from the army’s website.
“In early 2016, we established cyber warfare center. We purchased some equipment, but no SSL cracking devices. The claim was bogus,” Gen. Chalermchai Sithiwat, Army Commander-in-Chief, told reporters Tuesday.