Israeli held in US for ties to massive hacking-for-hire operation

Private investigator Aviram Azari has been indicted in New York for suspected links to global online criminal campaign, The New York Times reports

Illustrative: A policeman holds handcuffs. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative: A policeman holds handcuffs. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

An Israeli arrested last year in the US is a suspect in a wide-ranging federal criminal investigation into a hacking operation against government officials, journalists, environmental activists and others.

Aviram Azari was apprehended in Florida last year during a family trip, and indicted in New York on charges of wire fraud, identity theft and conspiracy to commit computer hacking, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Azari appears to be the first suspect taken into custody in the case, which was sparked by phishing emails that targeted environmental groups starting three years ago.

The campaign, dubbed “Dark Basin,” appeared to be part of a sprawling hacking-for-hire operation. The targets, numbering in the thousands, often seemed to take one side of a legal or advocacy issue, or business proceeding.

A primary target was US-based nonprofits. It is unclear how successful the operation has been, and it is likely still active, the report said.

Phishing attacks are a type of fraud where the attackers pose as reliable entities to trick victims into giving up private information, usually for identity theft. Phishing attacks are carried out via email or other online communication.

The Canada-based watchdog group Citizen Lab publicized information on the case on Tuesday. The outfit said the operation was likely handled by a firm in India called BellTroX InfoTech Services, Citizen Lab said.

Azari is accused of using phishing attacks to break into accounts in 2017 and 2018. His alleged accomplices and victims, at least one in New York, were not named.

Azari served in a police surveillance unit and was a coveted private investigator in Israel, The New York Times report said. He has pleaded not guilty.

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