Last Updated on 22/12/2021 by Ulka
Around 50,000 Facebook and Instagram users have been notified by Facebook’s parent corporation Meta that their accounts have been spied on by commercial “surveillance-for-hire” operations all across the world.
According to an update put on Meta’s news page today, the users were targeted by seven entities and were located in over 100 countries.
Journalists, dissidents, opponents of authoritarian regimes, opposition families, and human rights advocates were among those targeted, according to the post. The surveillance was discovered after Meta identified spying groups and removed them from the site after a months-long inquiry.
“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 may enable,” wrote David Agranovich, Meta’s director of threat disruption, and Mike Dvilyanski, head of cyber espionage investigations. “This industry ‘democratises’ these risks by making them available to government and non-government organisations that would not otherwise have access to them.”
Six of the seven companies were identified in a more extensive danger analysis issued by Meta, with one labelled as unknown. Cobwebs Technologies, Cognyte, Black Cube, and Bluehawk CI are four of the seven companies, with the other three situated in China, India, and North Macedonia.
Black Cube billed itself as a “litigation assistance firm” that used investigation methods that were compliant with local laws in every region where it operated, according to a statement sent to NPR. Harvey Weinstein previously hired Black Cube to try to prevent the release of a New York Times article that triggered the #MeToo movement.
In a statement, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) said, “The admission by Facebook of efforts it has taken to disrupt and remove seven private corporations providing surveillance services to regimes that abuse human rights makes it increasingly evident that more must be done to end this mercenary industry.” “These firms constitute a significant threat to human rights by permitting indiscriminate monitoring of journalists and political dissidents, among others.”
The Israeli spyware company NSO Group, which was sued by both Apple and Meta last month for selling spyware used to hack iPhone and WhatsApp conversations, was also included in Meta’s report. Google researchers disclosed details of a “zero click” exploit created by NSO Group that allows attackers to hack targets’ phones just by sending a message — a degree of offensive capabilities described by the researchers as comparable to that of nation-state actors.
The US government has previously placed the corporation on a no-fly list for selling software that is used to spy on journalists all around the world. A group of congressmen, lead by Adam Schiff, recently proposed for tougher measures against a handful of surveillance firms, including NSO Group, that would freeze their bank accounts and prevent their personnel from flying to the United States.