EFF Helps News Organizations Push Back Against Legal Bullying from Cyber Mercenary Group

Deeplinks 2024-02-08


Cyber mercenaries present a grave threat to human rights and freedom of expression. They have been implicated in surveillance, torture, and even murder of human rights defenders, political candidates, and journalists. One of the most effective ways that the human rights community pushes back against the threat of targeted surveillance and cyber mercenaries is to investigate and expose these companies and their owners and customers. 

But for the last several months, there has emerged a campaign of bullying and censorship seeking to wipe out stories about the mercenary hacking campaigns of a less well-known company, Appin Technology, in general, and the company’s cofounder, Rajat Khare, in particular. These efforts follow a familiar pattern: obtain a court order in a friendly international jurisdiction and then misrepresent the force and substance of that order to bully publishers around the world to remove their stories.

We are helping to push back on that effort, which seeks to transform a very limited and preliminary Indian court ruling into a global takedown order. We are representing Techdirt and MuckRock Foundation, two of the news entities asked to remove Appin-related content from their sites. On their behalf, we challenged the assertions that the Indian court either found the Reuters reporting to be inaccurate or that the order requires any entities other than Reuters and Google to do anything. We requested a response – so far, we have received nothing.


If you worked in cybersecurity in the early 2010’s, chances are that you remember Appin Technology, an Indian company offering information security education and training with a sideline in (at least according to many technical reports) hacking-for-hire. 

On November 16th, 2023, Reuters published an extensively-researched story titled “How an Indian Startup Hacked the World” about Appin Technology and its cofounder Rajat Khare. The story detailed hacking operations carried out by Appin against private and government targets all over the world while Mr. Khare was still involved with the company. The story was well-sourced, based on over 70 original documents and interviews with primary sources from inside Appin. But within just days of publication, the story—and many others covering the issue—disappeared from most of the web.

On December 4th, an Indian court preliminarily ordered Reuters to take down their story about Appin Technology and Khare while a case filed against them remains pending in the court. Reuters subsequently complied with the order and took the story offline. Since then dozens of other journalists have written about the original story and about the takedown that followed. 

At the time of this writing, more than 20 of those stories have been taken down by their respective publications, many at the request of an entity called “Association of Appin Training Centers (AOATC).” Khare’s lawyers have also sent letters to news sites in multiple countries demanding they remove his name from investigative reports. Khare’s lawyers also succeeded in getting Swiss courts to issue an injunction against reporting from Swiss public television, forcing them to remove his name from a story about Qatar hiring hackers to spy on FIFA officials in preparation for the World Cup. Original stories, cybersecurity reports naming Appin, stories about the Reuters story, and even stories about the takedown have all been taken down. Even the archived version of the Reuters story was taken down from archive.org in response to letters sent by the Association of Appin Training Centers.

One of the letters sent by AOATC to Ron Diebert, the director of Citizen Lab, reads:

A letter from the association of appin training centers to citizenlab asking the latter to take down their story .

Founder and Director of Citizenlab, Ron Deibert, had the following response:



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Cooper Quintin, Eva Galperin

Date tagged:

02/08/2024, 20:41

Date published:

02/08/2024, 18:47