Operatives linked to an Israeli business intelligence firm masqueraded as journalists in an effort to gather information on a lawsuit against an Emirati royal family, the Daily Beast reported Tuesday.
According to the report, the firm has set up two fake personas for individuals pretending to be a Fox News researcher and a journalist from Italy’s La Stampa. They reached out to individuals involved in a lawsuit against Ras Al Khaimah, one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates.
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The Daily Beast received information about the users and sent it to Facebook, which then linked them back to an Israeli firm called Bluehawk CI.
Bluehawk CI did not respond to the Daily Beast's inquiry on the matter.
The firm was set up by Israeli Guy Klisman, “former Israeli military intelligence officer,” according to the report. The Israeli firm claims to offer cyber security services and reportedly boasts of a staff of “‘alumni from special units in the Israeli intelligence community."
They specialize in “litigation support by providing answers to complex queries” through “social engineering & PR campaign management,” according to the firm's website.
This operation targeted individuals involved in complex legal disputes with the Ras Al Khaimah emir, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, and his family. In the communications revealed by the Daily Beast, the firm’s operatives can be seen trying to gather information related to internal UAE affairs.
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One of the impersonators is described as “a journalist and researcher at the Fox News channel in New York … conducting a research about the situation in the Emirates.” The messages were sent from seemingly legitimate email account affiliated with the American media outlet.
According to the report, which quotes a lawsuit by the target, the fake persona was “based on the stolen identity of a real young woman, similar in age and appearance,” who had actually worked at Fox. Even the telephone number used by the fake journalist had led to Fox’s service line, the Daily Beast said.
This approach mimics a previous attack on one of the targets related to the lawsuit against Ras Al Khaimah. “The fake Italian reporter approached [the target] via Facebook message asking to discuss his relationship with the government of Ras Al Khaimah,” the report said.
One of the targets claims he was also contacted by someone saying they were a donor interested in funding the case against the emir. However, it later seemed as if they were only trying to find information.
Another victim claims they received files containing malware to spy on their phones. But “the hackers had mistakenly sent malware designed for an Android operating system to an iPhone, where it wouldn’t have worked," the report said.
The victims said they intend to file a complaint with the FBI.