Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has taken the drastic step of blacklisting 4 Israeli companies that produce spyware software from its services. The 4 are among 6 such firms banned from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. The move came on Thursday along with the removal of more than 1,500 accounts that Meta said were in some way a threat to its user base.
Cognyte, Verint, Black Cube and Bluehawk are the banned Israeli firms.
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Spyware is a real threat and people should take it seriously. Spyware is just like it sounds – software that is secretly implanted into a victim’s device, hides inside of it and in some way or another steals the victim’s personal information. This can be bank account info, credit card numbers, identity theft, and sometimes spyware can even take over a device and perform actions without the victim even knowing it.
Then there is ransomware, a form of spyware that locks a person’s computer or phone and then demands that a ransom be paid to return it to the victim’s use.
Another form of attack simply spies on the victim’s whereabouts and activities. This is the complaint made against Israel’s NSO Group and its Pegasus spyware. In July, it was revealed that Pegasus was used by autocratic regimes around the world to spy on journalists, hack their phones, and to suppress political dissent.
In America, the Biden administration recently blacklisted NSO because of this. And Facebook is even suing NSO. Last month a federal appeals court ruled that Facebook’s case claiming NSO was responsible for exploiting a bug in the WhatsApp software that allowed for the hacking of 1,400 WhatsApp users had merit and could move forward.
Israel’s Black Cube is one of the companies banned by Meta. It is best – or worst – known for helping the disgraced convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein spy on his accusers.
Black Cube said in a statement that it “does not undertake any phishing or hacking” and promised that it ensures that its customers obey any relevant laws.
Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy for Meta and a co-author of a report on the matter that Facebook released on Thursday said, “The targeting we see is indiscriminate. They’re targeting journalists. They’re targeting politicians. They’re targeting human rights defenders. They’re also targeting ordinary citizens.”
Calling the banned firms “cyber mercenaries,” he added that they, “often claim that their services only target criminals and terrorists, our months-long investigation concluded that targeting is in fact indiscriminate and includes journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of opposition members and human rights activists.