Facebook blocked two Bangladesh non-profit organizations over allegations that they targeted activists, journalists and minorities by hacking into their online content and disseminating “fictitious” information, security officials with the company said this week.
The social media giant identified the organizations as Don’s Team (also known as Defense of Nation) and the Crime Research and Analysis Foundation (CRAF).
“Don’s Team and CRAF collaborated to report people on Facebook for fictitious violations of our community standards, including alleged impersonation, intellectual property infringements, nudity and terrorism,” Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy, and Mike Dvilyanski, cyber threat intelligence manager, said in a statement issued Thursday.
“They also hacked people’s accounts and pages, and used some of these compromised accounts for their own operational purposes, including to amplify their content.”
In at least one incident, after a page administrator’s account was compromised, the hackers removed the accounts of the remaining administrators to take over the page, Gleicher and Dvilyanski said.
“To disrupt this activity, we removed the accounts and pages behind this operation. We shared information about this group with our industry partners so they too can detect and stop this activity,” the Facebook officials said.
Facebook took similar action against APT32, a group which targeted rights activists and governments in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
In Bangladesh, CRAF President Janefer Alam brushed aside the allegations against her organization.
“Someone has fed Facebook with wrong information about us. We have been involved in creating awareness by popularizing the terms such as cybercrime and hacking and others. CRAF provides technical support to the victims of cyber bullying for free,” she told Prothom Alo, a Bangladesh newspaper.
CRAF had been working for four years to counter cybercrimes and create public awareness about cyber security, she said.
“CRAF is not a hacker group. The Facebook authorities had not contacted or talked to us before issuing such a statement,” Alam said. “We will formally talk to Facebook in this regard.”
‘Rightly taken action’
A Bangladesh cyber forensic expert, however, spoke out against Don’s Team and CRAF members.
“The Facebook authorities have rightly taken action against these hackers. They have been involved in hacking. I personally know them,” Tanvir Hassan Zoha told BenarNews.
“I had been involved with CRAF. When I saw that the organization has been being used for hacking, I quit the organization in 2017,” said Zoha, an IT analyst who has worked with the government’s information and communication technology division.
“CRAF and Don’s Team are run by the same group of people,” he said, adding that they were influential.
A Dhaka Metropolitan Police commissioner, meanwhile, said he did not know the groups blocked by Facebook.
“We have not received complaints from anyone against such hacking groups. If we get any complaints, we will investigate and take action,” Mahbubul Alam, joint commissioner of detective branch of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told BenarNews.
Rafael Ahsan Nawmee and Mohaiminul Islam Chowdhury said they were victims of online hackers after the pair and friends set up a social media platform called Idea and Step. Still fearing for their safety, Nawmee and Chowdhury did not name the people who hacked their site.
“We organized a program on cyber security and planned more such events for a safer cyber space for people. These hackers got angry with us as such programs would have hurt their interests,” Chowdhury told BenarNews.
“Usually, hackers make an advanced announcement before hacking any accounts. In November 2017, they made an announcement that they would hack our Facebook accounts,” he said. “One day our CEO Nawmee saw his Facebook account vanish after they hacked it by cloning the SIM card of his mobile phone.”
Chowdhury said he took security measures to keep his account safe.
“But they did not stop. They brought a series of charges from different groups against me to Facebook authorities in an effort to disable my account. Facebook notified me about the charges, I responded and saved my account,” he said.
He said the hackers sought to disable his account so that all the cybersecurity pages he administered would be disabled as well.
History of hacking
On Sept. 29, 2012, religious bigots and their accomplices hacked the Facebook account of Buddhist man Uttam Barua to post an image of a desecrated the Quran, leading a mob to burn down a century-old Buddhist temple in Cox’s Bazar.
Four years later, minority Hindus in Brahmanbaria district came under attack on Oct. 30, 2016, over a Facebook post on the page of an illiterate Hindu fisherman, Rasraj Das. At least 100 people were injured and a dozen of Hindu temples were ransacked.
Das claimed his page had been hacked and he had not posted the image depicting the Hindu Lord Shiva near the Kabba – the building at the heart of the al-Masjid al-Haram, Islam’s most sacred mosque in the holy city of Mecca.
In October 2019, thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims protested in the streets of Dhaka after police killed four people during clashes stemming from a Facebook post that criticized Prophet Muhammad.
Police said two youths were arrested on suspicion of being involved in the hacking and demanding money from the man.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for calm, saying someone had hacked a Hindu man’s account to post the insult.
“Rumors are being spread in Facebook to create an environment of anarchy,” Hasina said at the time.