Facebook thwarts hacking network used by PA intelligence services

Facebook says elements linked to PA security services used fake accounts to target journalists and government critics.

Elad Benari ,

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Facebook said on Wednesday it has broken up a hacker network used by Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas' intelligence service in an attempt to keep tabs on journalists, human rights activists and government critics, The Associated Press reports.

In its report, Facebook said that elements linked to the PA’s Preventive Security Service “used fake and compromised accounts to create fictitious personas.”

Posing as young women, journalists and political activists, they then sought "to build trust with people they targeted and trick them into installing malicious software,” said Facebook.

The malware, disguised as chat applications, would give the security agency access to targets' phones, including contacts, text messages, locations and even keystrokes, the social media company said.

It said the ring targeted people in PA-assigned territories and in Syria, and to a lesser extent in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Libya.

In all, nearly 800 people were targeted, according to AP. The company said it was impossible to say how many had downloaded the malware or determine what the security agency had done with the information.

It said, however, that it believed the effort spread across other online platforms, indicating that there may have been additional targets as well.

Abbas is notorious for past crackdowns on social media and news sites run by those who oppose him.

In 2019, a PA court blocked access to dozens of online news sources that the PA regards as threats.

In 2017, Abbas issued a decree allowing his government to jail anyone on charges of harming "national unity" or the "social fabric".

Following the decree, the PA government blocked 30 websites, most of which were affiliated with Abbas' two main rivals, his longtime political rival Mohammed Dahlan and the Hamas terrorist group which controls Gaza.

In 2012, Abbas also censored media outlets affiliated with his rivals. He subsequently ordered the censorship to be lifted after coming under fire for it.



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