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UK news site hacked to control readers’ computers, report says

A secret Israeli company helped hack a British news site and used it to grab the devices of some people who visited the site, according to cyber researchers.

Cybersecurity firm ESET said in a report On Tuesday the company, Candiru, helped an unknown foreign government hack London’s Middle East Eye news site with a so-called waterhole attack, that places malware on a website to infect and hack people’s computers who visits it.

Research is a rare glimpse of Candiru, who has been blacklisted this month by the US Department of Commerce for providing “spyware to foreign governments who have used this tool to maliciously target government officials, journalists, business people, activists, academics and government employees. ’embassy’.

Candiru keeps an extremely low profile and does not have a public website or contact information, and therefore could not be contacted for this article. But like many computer weapons dealers, Candiru sells hacking technologies to governments with few restrictions on how they can be used, according to cybersecurity researchers. Earlier this year, researchers from Microsoft and the University of Toronto Citizen Laboratory The Cybersecurity Research Center found that Candiru had helped governments that paid for his services hack into human rights activists around the world.

For several days Last year, when some people visited Middle East Eye, which reports news and publishes opinion pieces on the Middle East, their devices were hacked if they met certain criteria, said researcher Matthieu Faou. at ESET.

It was part of a larger campaign in which Candiru helped the anonymous government break into a series of Middle East-related websites, ESET found. The aim appeared to be to gather information on Yemen, Faou said.

A spokesperson for Candiru says Forbes that he does not carry out attacks on clients and does not know how clients are using his tools.

Companies that sell hacking tools to governments, like Candiru and NSO Group, also based in Israel, are popular with countries whose intelligence agencies lack the capacity to hack individuals they wish to spy on.

Human rights activists have long warned that companies that sell software to governments for national security purposes do little to restrict the use of their products and help authoritarian regimes crack down on dissent.

NSO Group, which has denied allegations that it provided software used by Saudi security services before assassinating journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, has suffered several setbacks recently. United States added NSO to its blacklist on Nov. 4, claiming that every company “is involved or presents a significant risk of being or becoming involved in activities contrary to national security or the interests of United States foreign policy.” ONS CEO Isaac Benbenisti resigned Friday after less than two weeks of work.

But even by industry standards, helping hack a UK news site to take over visitors’ devices is a cheeky step. Even when such spyware is deployed against human rights defenders, software like NSO’s is only used to target specific individuals.

“It’s outrageous,” said John Scott-Railton, senior researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which studies hacking campaigns.

Middle East Eye did not respond to a request for comment.

In an article on ESET research published Tuesday, Middle East Eye said it is “examining possible legal action that could be brought against parties it believes may have played a role in the attack.”

Brian Bartholomew, a researcher at cybersecurity firm Sentinel One who researched Candiru, said the company looks “a lot like a modern arms dealer.”

“They sell the weapons that allow the attacks, and unfortunately they don’t quite know who these weapons are for,” Bartholomew said.

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