An American exploit acquisition platform has been listed as one of the worst digital predators in the world by freedom of expression group Reporters Without Borders (RSF). 

The group published a list of the globe’s most terrible online repressors and cyber-censors yesterday to coincide with World Day Against Cyber-Censorship. 

On the list are 20 companies and government agencies that RSF say “use digital technology to spy on and harass journalists and thereby jeopardize our ability to get news and information.”

US zero-day exploit broker Zerodium was among the state and non-state actors considered by RSF to pose “a clear danger for freedom of opinion and expression” guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Zerodium, which operates out of offices in Washington, DC, and Europe, was founded in 2015 under the name Vupen. 

The company buys evidence of high-risk and high-impact vulnerabilities in software programs that would enable a threat actor to penetrate a user’s device without any action on the part of the victim. 

Zero-day exploits, acquired by Zerodium for sometimes millions of dollars, are sold by the company to third parties.

RSF said: “Zerodium pays bounties to hackers and security researchers to be exclusively informed about their discoveries. The company says it then resells this information to “mainly European and North American governments.” 

“One of these exploits was used to spy on Ahmed Mansoor, a blogger in the United Arab Emirates who covers human rights violations and is critical of the government. He is currently serving a ten-year jail term including on a charge of publishing false information to damage the country’s reputation.”

Predators on the list are broken down into four categories according to the nature of their activities: harassment, state censorship, disinformation, and spying or surveillance. Offenders are based all over the world, from Algeria and India to Brazil and Switzerland.

RSF said: “The power of these enemies of press freedom takes many forms. They locate, identify, and spy on journalists who annoy people in positions of power and authority. They intimidate them by orchestrating online harassment. They reduce them to silence by censoring them in different ways. They even try to destabilize democratic countries by deliberately disseminating false information.”

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