The Rosetta Stone of For-Profit Hacking

Bradley Hope

We've heard extensively about the ways in which governments and intelligence agencies around the world use powerful technology to hack into the phones of everyone from suspected terrorists to activists, human rights campaigners and journalists. But just as interesting is a phenomenon in the private sector that has exploded in recent years.

It goes something like this: two sides get into a dispute. Then magically the private messages and documents of one party end up on the internet. By sheer accident, lawyers for one party stumble onto the e-mails and realize they're relevant to the dispute at hand. They then submit these miraculous materials as evidence in the dispute. What amazing timing... The term for this odd phenomena is "hack and leak" or "hack and dump."

One of my all-time favorite investigations at the Wall Street Journal included a for-profit hacking allegation at Softbank. Read it here (so I don't have to repeat dozens of allegedlys and declined to comments -- a PDF copy here).

Last weekend, an in-depth NYTimes story by Barry Meier and Karan Deep Singh highlighted another fascinating case involving the tiny sheikhdom of Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates, a Iran-contra bold name, and a group of lawyers and private investigators around the world. Long story short, the rulers of RAK got into a dispute with advisors working with its sovereign fund and the two sides went to legal war. At one point in the battle, the entire e-mail history of one of the key characters – a man called Farhad Azima – ended up on the internet.

This is a relatively obscure case for anyone to follow, except for those who enjoy the tangled narrative and the implications that some of the actions there relate to an even more turgid scandal in the UK around the company ENRC. Read Kleptopia by FT journalist Tom Burgis to get insights into that saga.

A FAR MORE INTERESTING AND MEANINGFUL CASE about for-profit hacking has been simmering just below the surface for the better part of two years. It has the potential to blow the lid off all kinds of for-profit hacking – including from individuals and companies that might otherwise be described as respectable. This case has the potential to be the Rosetta Stone of for-profit hacking, revealing the ways in which global disputes are  being waged partly in the cyber underworld. This is the case of Aviram Azari, an Israeli former police officer whom the Department of Justice describes as a critical intermediary between private clients and hackers for hire.

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