The Israeli hacking firm Candiru has been providing government clients across the world with services that allow them spy on their citizens, Microsoft warns.
According to the #Microsoft report, more than 100 people, including politicians, dissidents, human rights activists, embassy workers and journalists from various countries have so been targeted ba #Candiru and its government customers.
The #Israeli hacker-for-hire firm is part of a growing industry of spyware companies that that help government intelligence services and law enforcement agencies to snoop on unsuspecting citizens without having to worry much about regulations because in most scenarios the law doesn’t address such issues.
The report suggests that most of Candiru’s customers have questionable human rights records, which shouldn’tcome as a surprise given what they have been hiring the company for.
The cybersecurity research group Citizen Lab, which identified people targeted by Candiru and helped Microsoft compile its report, stated that most of the customers are located in the Middle East. They buy the saying tools from Candiru and use them independently.
Microsoft and other tech giants have over the past years criticized the spyware industry and called for strict regulation over such products, including export bans. The company said it has patched major bugs in its software that Candiru used to spy on its users.
“A world where private sector companies manufacture and sell cyberweapons is more dangerous for consumers, businesses of all sizes and governments,” Cristin Goodwin, general manager of Microsoft’s Digital Security Unit, said in a blog post.
Citizen Lab researchers identified targets of Candiru’s spyware in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Spain, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Armenia and Singapore.
“Every time we find one of these companies, it’s only a matter of time before we find abuses associated with them,” John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, said. “We cannot allow authoritarian regimes to export self-censorship around the world, and that’s exactly what companies like Candiru are allowing them to do.”
It is not yet known what Candiru’s spying tools can do but it’s safe to assume that they probably allow users to intercept victims’ communications, steal their data, track their location and spy through microphones and cameras.
When tested, the tools proved effective against both Windows and Mac computers, as well as iPhone and Android smartphones.
The spyware was delivered to the victims through fake websites masquerading as international media, human rights organizations and other legitimate groups.
Human rights advocates have accused hacking firms of violating human rights and enabling harassment of government opponents.
In 2019, Facebook affiliate WhatsApp sued another Israeli firm called NSO, wold most notorious hacker-for-hire firm in U.S. federal court, accusing it of illegally helping governments hack hundreds of its customers.
Microsoft filed a brief supporting WhatsApp’s position in that case, which is still working its way through the legal system.
An NSO spyware was also used against Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi before he was killed by a government hit squad in 2018.
Candiru has maintained a high level of secrecy, including by changing its official corporate name four times during its six years in operation, according to a Citizen Lab report. The firm is now officially named Saito Tech Limited.
“Candiru has tried to remain in the shadows ever since its founding but there is no space in the shadows for companies that facilitate authoritarianism,” Bill Marczak, a senior fellow at Citizen Lab, said.
Governments have been increasingly hiring hacking firms to spy on their citizens.
Russia, for example, have been accused over the past few weeks of hiring underground hacking teams to disrupt America’s infrastructure and steal its secrets.