Facebook says Palestinian spies behind Reuters hacking campaign


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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People pose with mobile devices in front of the projection of the Facebook logo in this photo taken in Zenica

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By Elizabeth Culliford and Raphael Satter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facebook (NASDAQ 🙂 says it disrupted a long-running Palestinian intelligence campaign of cyberespionage that features spies posing as journalists and the deployment of a trick app to submit stories of human rights.

In a report on Wednesday, Facebook accused what it said was the cyber wing of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service (PSS), loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, of carrying out rudimentary hacking operations that also targeted journalists, Palestinian activists and dissidents. like other groups in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

PSS spokesman Ikrimah Thabet dismissed Facebook’s accusations and said: “We respect the media, we work within the law that governs our work and we work within the law and the law. order. We respect freedoms, privacy and confidentiality of information. “

He said the service has good relations with journalists and the Palestinian Journalists Union.

Mike Dvilyanski, Facebook’s head of cyber espionage investigations, told Reuters before the report was released that the campaign’s methods were crass, but “we see them as persistent.”

The PSS has stepped up its activities over the past six months or so, Dvilyanski said. He said Facebook believed the organization had deployed some 300 bogus or compromised accounts to target around 800 people in total.

None of the targets were identified by name. Facebook said it issued individual warnings to affected users through its platform and removed rogue accounts.

Attributing malicious activity online is notoriously tricky, but Dvilyanski said the world’s largest social network “has multiple data points that link this cluster of activity to the PSS and our confidence in that attribution is pretty high.”

According to the Facebook report, the techniques used by the PSS were heavily aimed at tricking users into downloading out-of-the-box spyware, for example by setting up fake Facebook accounts with photos of attractive young women. Facebook said the hackers also posed as journalists and in some cases attempted to obtain targets to download spyware masquerading as secure chat apps or an app to submit rights-related articles. of man for publication.

Some of their Facebook pages have posted memes, for example criticizing Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, to attract particular followers.

Facebook also said it had taken action against another long-running campaign linked to another hacking group, often dubbed ‘Arid Viper’. He didn’t say who was behind the group.

Facebook said that Arid Viper exploited fake Facebook and Instagram accounts and more than a hundred malicious websites, as well as its development in iOS monitoring software. The targets included Palestinian government officials and security forces, he said.

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