Bringing light on the “surveillance-for-hire” industry, Facebook’s parent company Meta announced on Thursday, 16 December, that it has shut down around 1500 accounts that were linked to seven entities who were targeting people across the internet in over 100 countries to collect intelligence, manipulate, and compromise their devices.
Meta said in its report that though these “cyber mercenaries” claim to target criminals and terrorists, the company’s investigation has revealed that the “targeting is in fact indiscriminate and includes journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of opposition and human rights activists”.
The seven firms or surveillance providers offered services ranging from collection and analysis of online data to using fictitious personas which engages with targets in order to build trust to surveillance through hack attacks.
Four out of the seven firms were either based or founded in Israel including Cobwebs Technologies, Cognyte, Black Cube and Bluehawk CI.
The other three are India-based BellTroX, North Macedononian firm Cytrox, and an unidentified entity in China.
Meta also alerted around 50,000 people it believes were targeted.
Nathaniel Gleicher, who is the head of security policy at Facebook, told the press, "The surveillance-for-hire industry... looks like indiscriminate targeting on behalf of the highest bidder", news agency AFP reported.
As per a Reuters report from last year, New Delhi-based BellTroX InfoTech Services had also targeted government officials in Europe, gambling tycoons, and investors in the United States including private equity giant KKR and short seller Muddy Waters, according to three former employees, outside researchers, and a trail of online evidence.
(With inputs from AFP and Reuters.)