Meta takes aim at vast networks of spies for hire
Meta, the parent corporation, shut down hundreds of Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to seven separate spy organizations and contacted about 50,000 people who had been targeted.
Cybersecurity researchers from Facebook and a university claim surveillance-for-hire companies from India to "Israel" have utilized hacking tools and hundreds of bogus profiles to track journalists, dissidents, and politicians all around the world.
According to the New Yorker, as part of the investigation, Facebook's parent company, Meta, shut down hundreds of Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to the seven different spy organizations, including Black Cube, the intelligence firm that disgraced media mogul Harvey Weinstein allegedly hired to track actresses and journalists.
Meta said it notified around 50,000 people that had been targeted in one way or another by the spying-for-hire firms.
Who is the target?
On the phone of former Egyptian presidential candidate Ayman Nour, a critic of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a digital rights research lab at the University of Toronto called Citizen Lab, uncovered invasive malware purportedly manufactured by one of the surveillance corporations, Cytrox.
"While these 'cyber mercenaries' often claim that their services only target criminals and terrorists, our months-long investigation concluded that the targeting is, in fact, indiscriminate," and includes critics of authoritarian regimes and human rights activists, Meta researchers said in a report published Thursday.
Meta investigated seven surveillance firms and organizations that offer a wide range of services to their clients, from simple hacking tools for accessing mobile phones to access to social media accounts to track targets.
Black Cube's services included acting as film producers, graduate students, and non-governmental organization (NGO) employees to spy on targets all over the world.
According to Meta, another Israeli firm, Bluehawk CI, exploited social media profiles to impersonate Fox News and other news sources to dupe their targets into being questioned on video.
Facebook to Meta
In October, Facebook changed its name to Meta in response to increased criticism from US lawmakers over how it tackles misinformation that causes real-world harm.
The latest findings demonstrate the lengths to which private spies for hire will go to obscure their operations and evade public scrutiny.
Cytrox, a mysterious spyware company based in North Macedonia, according to Citizen Lab researchers. According to the experts, Cytrox has a corporate presence in "Israel" and Hungary under numerous identities.
According to surveillance industry observers, Cytrox is one of the numerous spyware competitors to NSO Group, the Israeli firm that the Commerce Department has blacklisted from doing business with US IT firms.