The owner of Facebook, Meta Platforms Inc, has denounced half a dozen private companies surveillance for hacking or other abuses, accusing them in a report published Thursday of having collectively attacked some 50,000 people on their platforms.
The company’s fight with spy companies comes as part of a broader movement by American tech companies, American lawmakers, and the administration of President Joe Biden against digital spy service providers, especially the Israeli spyware company NSO Group, which was included blacklisted earlier this month after weeks of revelations about how its technology was being deployed against civil society.
Meta ya has sued NSO before the American courts. Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Meta’s security policy, told Reuters that Thursday’s crackdown was intended to signal that “the industry of on-demand surveillance is much larger than a single company.”
Meta’s report said it was suspending about 1,500 accounts, mostly fake, run by seven organizations on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Meta said that the entities they were targeting people from more than 100 countries.
Meta did not provide a detailed explanation of how it identified the surveillance companies, but it operates some of the largest communication and social networks in the world and regularly touts its ability to find and remove malicious actors from its platforms.
Among them is the Israeli Black Cube, who became famous for deploying her spies on behalf of Hollywood rapist Harvey Weinstein. Meta said the intelligence firm was deploying ghost people to chat with its targets online and collect their emails, “probably for later phishing attacks.”
In a statement, Black Cube said it “does not carry out any form of phishing or hacking of any kind” and stated that the company routinely ensured that “all activities of our agents are fully compliant with local laws.”
More companies reported
Other companies indicated by Meta are BellTroX, an Indian cybermercenaries company denounced by Reuters and internet watchdog Citizen Lab last year, an Israeli company called Bluehawk CI and a company European called Cytrox, all of which Meta accused of hacking.
Cognyte, which spun off security giant Verint Systems Inc. in February, and Israeli companies Cobwebs Technologies were accused not of hacking, but of using fake profiles to mislead people into revealing private data. Cognyte, Verint and Bluehawk did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
In an email, Cobwebs spokesman Meital Levi Tal said the company relied on open sources and that your products “they are not intrusive in any way”. Messages left for Ivo Malinovski – who until recently identified himself as the CEO of Cytrox on LinkedIn – received no immediate response.
BellTroX founder Sumit Gupta has not returned messages from Reuters reporters since his company was discovered last year. He had previously denied any wrongdoing.
Gleicher refused to identify none of the targets by name, but Citizen Lab, in a report published at the same time as Meta’s, said that one of Cytrox’s victims was Egyptian opponent Ayman Nour.
Nour blamed the Egyptian government for the espionage, telling Reuters in an interview from Istanbul that he had long suspected he was being watched by Egyptian officials. “For the first time I have evidence,” he said. Egyptian authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Represented people: the goal
Gleicher said that other objectives of the companies of espionage were celebrities, politicians, journalists, lawyers, executives and normal citizens. Friends and relatives of the targets were also involved in the spying campaigns, he said.
Meta’s head of cybersecurity David Agranovich said he expected Thursday’s announcement to “trigger the disruption of the on-demand surveillance market,” but It remains to be seen whether it represents more than a temporary setback for the companies involved.. Two of the companies, Black Cube and BellTroX, have recovered after being involved in previous spy scandals.
Gleicher said that the targets of spy companies would receive automatic warningsBut it said Facebook would not identify the specific companies involved or their customers. This is so despite the fact that Facebook said it had identified several clients of Cobwebs, Cognyte, Cytrox and Black Cube (the latter includes law firms).
Marta Pardavi, one of several Hungarian human rights defenders who claim to have been targeted by Black Cube in 2017 and 2018, said she was gratified by the news of the Facebook report, but wanted more information.
“They appoint law firms,” he said. “But law firms have clients. Who are the clients of these law firms?”