Facebook closes “mercenary” accounts spying on activists and journalists

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Meta, his parent company Facebook, announced today that closed about 1,500 accounts on this platform and on Instagram, which were associated with “cyber-mercenaries” where they were spying until 50,000 activists, dissidents and journalists on behalf of customers worldwide.

These accounts belonged to seven companies that provide services such as collecting public information on the Internet to the use of fake identities to get in touch with their targets and digital espionage through cyber piracy.

Meta claims to have informed the nearly 50,000 people who may have been targeted.

“These cyber-mercenaries often claim that their services target only criminals and terrorists,” the company said in a statement. “In fact, they do not discriminate on their targets, including journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of opposition members and human rights activists,” he added.

Four of these companies are based in Israel, a country known for its capabilities in the field of cyber surveillance: Cobwebs Technologies, Cognyte, Black Cube and Bluehawk CI. The other three are BellTroX, based in India, Cytrox, based in Northern Macedonia, and another, which is not named and is based in China.

These companies “seem ready to target anyone, on behalf of whoever offers the most,” Nathaniel Glaitzer, Meta’s security chief, told reporters. They are usually presented as “internet information services” and specialize in collecting and analyzing information found on websites, blogs, discussion forums, media websites, etc. Cyber-mercenaries sometimes create fake accounts on social networking sites or subscribe to discussion forums where their goal is involved. Other times they try to gain the trust of the targets and then send them malware to trap their mobile phones or computer. Thus they manage to collect sensitive data such as photos, messages, videos, phone numbers and passwords. They can also turn on microphones, cameras or geolocation software to better monitor their targets.

Meta has not been able to determine who runs the Chinese-based company, but has noted that some of the servers used for espionage also appear to have been used by security agents. “Our investigation revealed that malicious tools were used to monitor minority groups throughout Asia and the Pacific, including China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Myanmar and Hong Kong,” the report added.

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