(Reuters) – Facebook Inc. says it has disrupted a long-running cyber espionage campaign run by Palestinian intelligence, which includes spies posing as journalists and the deployment of a jailed app for submitting human rights stories.
In a report published on Wednesday, Facebook accused what it said was the cyber wing of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service, loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, of conducting rudimentary hacking operations targeting Palestinian journalists, activists and dissidents, as well as others. groups in Syria.
PSS spokesman Ikrimah Thabet rejected Facebook's allegations, saying: “We respect the media, we work within the law that governs our work and we work according to law and order. We respect freedom of information, integrity and confidentiality.
He said that the service has good relations with journalists and the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate.
Mike Dvilyanski, Facebook's head of cyber espionage investigations, told Reuters ahead of the report's publication that the campaign's methods were crude, but "we see them as persistent."
PSS had intensified its operations in the last six months, Dvilyanski said. He said Facebook believed the organization had distributed about 300 fake or compromised accounts to target about 800 people in total.
None of the targets were identified by name. Facebook said it had issued individual warnings to affected users via its platform and removed the rogue accounts.
Attributing malicious activity online is notoriously tricky, but Dvilyanski said the world's largest social network "had several data points linking this cluster. Activity to PSS and our confidence in this attribution is quite high."
According to the Facebook report focused the techniques that PSS used a lot on tricking users into downloading craft spyware, for example by creating dummy Facebook accounts with pictures of attractive young women. download spyware disguised as secure chat apps or an app to submit human rights stories for publication.
Some of their Facebook pages published memes, such as criticizing Russian foreign policy in the Middle East to attract particular followers.
Facebook also said that they had taken action against another long-running campaign linked to e another hacking group, often called "Arid Viper." It was not clear who was behind the group.
Facebook said that Arid Viper had run fake Facebook and Instagram accounts and more than a hundred malicious websites, as well as expanded to iOS monitoring programs. The targets included Palestinian government officials and security forces, it said.