Meta banned seven “Monitoring for rent” Companies that have targeted at least 50,000 people worldwide. The company also suspended more than 1,000 accounts associated with these companies.
Companies affected by the takedowns include Cobwebs, Cognite, Black Cube, Bluehawk CI, BelltroX, and Cytrox. Facebook security researchers also identified “an unknown entity in China” that “develops surveillance software” and uses facial recognition software. Facebook researchers did not say who was behind the group, but said the software was used by “domestic law enforcement agencies” in the country.
While some of the companies manufacture spyware, the groups also use other tactics, including social engineering with fake accounts, to gain access to the personal information of the targeted individuals. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Meta security chief Nathaniel Gleicher said that while much attention has been drawn to hacking for hire groups like NSO, the broader surveillance for hire industry is also worrying. “One of the things that characterize the surveillance or employment industry is random targeting,” he said.
“Cyber mercenaries often claim that their services and surveillance are aimed at tracking down criminals and terrorists. But our research and similar research… has shown that the attacks are indeed indiscriminate and include journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of oppositionists and human rights activists. “
Overall, Meta says it will notify “around 50,000” people from more than 100 countries that it believes have been attacked by these companies. Facebook will recommend these users to check their privacy settings and enable additional account security measures like two-factor authentication.
Update 12/16 5:20 p.m. ET: In a statement, a Black Cube representative said the company “does not phish, hack or operate in the cyber world.” “Black Cube is seeking legal advice in every jurisdiction in which we operate to ensure that all activities of our agents are fully compliant with local laws,” the spokesman said.
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