Meta Bans Seven ‘Cyber Mercenary’ Companies That Allegedly Spied on Thousands of Its Users

Facebook owner Meta announced on Dec. 16 that it has banned seven “surveillance-for-hire” companies for targeting tens of thousands of users on its platforms.

Meta said that its months-long investigation revealed new details about how “cyber mercenary” companies enable their customers to “indiscriminately” target people across the internet “to collect intelligence, manipulate them into revealing information, and compromise their devices and accounts.”

“This industry ‘democratizes’ these threats, making them available to government and non-government groups that otherwise wouldn’t have these capabilities,” Meta said.

The surveillance companies that Meta banned from its platforms include Israeli firm Black Cube, which late, disgraced financer Harvey Weinstein had hired to spy on women who had accused him of sexual abuse.

Meta also banned Cobwebs Technologies, Cognyte, Bluehawk CI, BellTroX, Cytrox, and what it described as an “unknown entity” in China.

Meta said it removed hundreds of accounts across it platforms that were linked to the companies, accusing them of befriending targets and using hacking methods to harvest information.

Meta said it alerted around 50,000 users they believe were targets of “malicious activities” worldwide and shared the findings with security researchers and other platforms.

According to Meta, the targets include journalists, human rights activists, and critics of authoritarian regimes.

Meta also pointed out the increased attention on NSO Group, the Israeli technology firm that created spyware Pegasus and was recently blacklisted by the United States government.

“NSO is only one piece of a much broader global cyber mercenary industry,” Meta said.

Meta sued NSO in 2019, alleging that the Israeli firm used WhatsApp servers to spread malware.


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