Meta has banned seven surveillance for hire companies targeting at least 50,000 people around the world. The company also banned more than 1,000 accounts associated with these companies.
The companies targeted by the takedowns include Cobwebs, Cognyte, Black Cube, Bluehawk CI, BelltroX and Cytrox. Facebook’s security researchers also identified “an unknown entity in China” that “developed surveillance software” and used facial recognition software. Facebook’s investigators did not say who was behind the group, but said the software had been used by “domestic law enforcement” in the country.
While some companies create spyware, the groups also use other tactics, including social engineering with fake accounts to gain access to the target’s personal information. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Nathaniel Gleicher, Meta’s chief of security, said that while “hacking for hire” groups like NSO have been getting a lot of attention, the broader “surveillance for hire” industry is also troubling. “One of the hallmarks of the surveillance or rental industry is random targeting,” he said.
“Cyber mercenaries often claim that their services and their surveillance are intended to focus on tracking down criminals and terrorists. But our investigation and similar investigations… have shown that the target is in fact arbitrary and includes journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of opposition figures and human rights activists.”
In all, Meta says it will notify “about 50,000” people from more than 100 countries who it says were targeted by these companies. Facebook recommends these users review their privacy settings and enable additional account security measures, such as two-factor authentication.
Update 12/16 5:20 PM ET: In a statement, a Black Cube representative said the company “does not engage in phishing or hacking and is not active in the cyber world.” “Black Cube obtains legal advice in every jurisdiction in which we operate to ensure that all activities of our agents are in full compliance with local law,” the spokesperson said.
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