Sentencing of Cyberattack Perpetrator Spotlights Illegal Hacking Operation Targeting Critics of ExxonMobil’s Climate Deception

Statement by Kathy Mulvey, Accountability Campaign Director, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Nov 16, 2023

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A Manhattan judge will issue a sentence today for Aviram Azari, a self-described “hacker for hire” who pleaded guilty in what is known as the “Dark Basin” cyberattack. The large-scale spear phishing venture targeted individuals at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and other public interest organizations working to expose concerted efforts by ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel industry interests to spread disinformation about climate science and prevent climate action.

Additional details about the “Dark Basin” attack can be found in a report published by The Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog group at the University of Toronto.

Azari’s sentencing comes as dozens of U.S. lawsuits aiming to hold fossil fuel companies accountable are currently moving through the courts, with the most recent case filed by the state of California. After years of legal delay tactics and jurisdictional battles, companies continue their attempts to prevent communities from accessing justice in the courts. A recent exposé in The Wall Street Journal detailed damning documents offering an inside look at how ExxonMobil strategized to cast doubt on climate science."

Below is a statement by Kathy Mulvey, the accountability campaign director at UCS.

“The ‘Dark Basin’ cyberattack offers an acute reminder of the vested interests at play in obscuring the role of fossil fuel companies in driving the climate crisis. While the conviction and sentencing of Mr. Azari has shed light on the hacking-for-hire enterprise, we’re eager to see the bad actors behind the attack publicly named and held accountable.

“Although the chilling effects of the malicious ‘Dark Basin’ cybercrime linger, the Union of Concerned Scientists and our allies remain deeply committed to exposing the ongoing unscrupulous efforts of ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies to deceive people and block climate action.

“As the fossil fuel industry intensifies its efforts to thwart climate lawsuits that seek to hold them accountable for their deception and the devastating damage caused by their products, this sentencing serves as a stark reminder of the lengths powerful corporations and special interests will go to evade responsibility. Now more than ever, scientists, advocates, and our policymakers must fight back against scare tactics, delay maneuvers, or other abuses of power from this industry. A safer, healthier and more just future is at stake.”