Facebook’s parent company Meta has warned 50,000 users across its platform about being targeted and spied-on by surveillance-for-hire firms. Meta, in a blog post, said that users targeted by these surveillance companies are located in over 100 countries and that they are being targeted by surveillance companies located in China, Israel, India and North Macedonia.
The targeted users include journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of opposition members and human rights activists. The hack was discovered as a part of the company’s months-long investigation and the company, since its discovery, has banned these mercenary spy firms from its platform.
“These companies are part of a sprawling industry that provides intrusive software tools and surveillance services indiscriminately to any customer — regardless of who they target or the human rights abuses they might enable. This industry “democratizes” these threats, making them available to government and non-government groups that otherwise wouldn’t have these capabilities,” Meta’s Director of Threat Disruption, David Agranovich, and its Head of Cyber Espionage Investigations, Mike Dvilyanski wrote in a blog post.
In a more detailed report, Meta named six out of seven surveillance-for-hire firms that targeted its users. The seventh firm is an unknown entity located in China. Four of these seven firms – Cobweb Technologies, Cognate, Black Cube and Bluehawk Cl – are based out of Israel. Fifth firm, BellTroX, is located in India and the sixth firm, Cytrox, is located in North Macedonia.
Furthermore, Meta said that Cobweb Technologies was targeting users in Bangladesh, Hong Kong, the United States, New Zealand, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Hong Kong and Mexico, while Cognyte was targeting journalists and politicians in Israel, Serbia, Colombia, Kenya, Morocco, Mexico, Jordan, Thailand, and Indonesia. Black Cube, on the other hand, was targeting a range of customers, including private individuals, businesses, and law firms in Africa, Eastern Europe, South America, Russia, and Palestine, while Bluehawk Cl was targeting journalists in QAE and Qatar and politicians and businessmen in the Middle East. Similarly, BellTrox was targeting journalists and media personalities in Australia, Angola, Saudi Arabia, and Iceland.
While Cytrox was targeting politicians and journalists in Egypt and Armenia and other customers in Egypt, Armenia, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Germany, the unknown firm based in China was targeting minority groups throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Collectively, Meta has banned a total of 1500 Facebook accounts pertaining to these surveillance-for-hire firms.
Notably, Meta’s report also referenced the Israeli spyware company NSO Group that was sued by Apple and Meta last month for spying on their customers. Additionally, the report also mentioned Microsoft, which long with Cisco, GitHub, Google, LinkedIn, VMWare and the Internet Association filed an amicus brief support of the case filed by WhatsApp against the NSO Group.
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