Target ‘cyber-mercenaries’ using Facebook and Instagram to spy

Meta claims to have alerted some 50,000 people who may have been attacked. (Photo: 123RF)

Meta said Thursday that it closed about 1,500 Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to “cyber mercenaries” who have used them to spy on up to 50,000 activists, dissidents and journalists on behalf of clients around the world.

The accounts in question were connected to seven companies that offer services ranging from collecting public information online to using false identities to connect with targets and digital espionage through hacking.

Meta claims to have alerted some 50,000 people who may have been attacked.

“These cyber mercenaries often claim that their services only target criminals and terrorists,” Meta said in a report.

“Their target is, in fact, indiscriminate and includes journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of members of the opposition and human rights activists,” the company adds.

Four of the companies involved are based in Israel, a country recognized in the cyber surveillance sector: Cobwebs Technologies, Cognyte, Black Cube and Bluehawk CI.

The other three are India-based BellTroX, North Macedonia-based Cytrox, and an unidentified China-based company.

These companies “seem willing to target anyone on behalf of the highest bidder,” Nathaniel Gleicher, chief of security, said during a news conference.

They are generally presented as “Internet intelligence services”, specialized in the collection and analysis of information collected from sites, blogs, discussion forums, media pages, etc.

Cyber ​​merchants sometimes create fake social media accounts to collect even more personal things, including joining the groups or conversations these people are participating in.

Sometimes companies also try to gain the trust of their recipients before misleading them by sending them trapped links or attachments, thereby gaining fraudulent access to their phones or computers.

They can then recover sensitive data such as passwords, phone numbers, photos, videos and messages, according to the report. They can also activate microphones, cameras or geolocation functions for better spying.

Meta could not determine who was running the company operating from China, but found that some of the servers used for espionage also appeared to be used by law enforcement officials.

“Our investigation revealed that malicious tools were being used to monitor minority groups throughout the Asia-Pacific region, including the Xinjiang region in China, Burma and Hong Kong,” the report said.


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