An Israeli firm tried to influence more than 30 elections worldwide for clients by hacking, sabotage and spreading misinformation, according to an undercover media investigation published today.
It adds to a growing body of evidence that private companies around the world are leveraging aggressive hacking tools and the power of social media platforms to shape public opinion.
The firm was dubbed “Team George” by investigating journalists who posed as potential clients in order to gather information about the firm’s methods and capabilities.
Its boss, Tal Hanan, a 50-year-old former Israeli special forces operative, allegedly claims to be able to plant secure Telegram accounts, thousands of fake social media accounts and news stories, the report said.
The investigation was carried out by a consortium of journalists from 30 outlets, including Le Monde in France, Der Spiegel in Germany and El País in Spain, under the direction of a France-based non-profit.
The Guardian wrote, “The methods and techniques revealed by Team George pose new challenges for big tech platforms.”
“The evidence of a global private market in disinformation aimed at elections will also ring alarm bells for democracies around the world.”
Hanan did not answer detailed questions, saying only: “I deny any wrongdoing.”
He told three undercover reporters that his services, often referred to as “black ops”, were available to intelligence agencies, political campaigns and private companies.
“We are now involved in an election in Africa… We have a team in Greece and a team [the] Emirates… [We have completed] 33 presidential-level campaigns, of which 27 were successful,” the Guardian quoted him as saying.
British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica – since closed – was allegedly used to develop software steering voters towards Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election.
The group collected and exploited the personal data of 87 million Facebook users to which the platform had given it access, leading to large fines and lawsuits.
On Tuesday, the head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, admitted to creating an infamous troll farm that is suspected of stoking discord online and interfering in Western elections.
An investigation led by Forbidden Stories in 2021 said the powerful Israeli-made Pegasus spyware was sold to governments by cyber intelligence company, NSO Group Technologies, and was used against at least 50,000 people worldwide.
Forbidden Stories is a collaborative platform established in 2017 on the initiative of French documentary maker Laurent Richard in collaboration with Reporters Without Borders, and brings together more than 30 different media from around the world.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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