ibusinesslines.com August 18, 2017

Mexican journalists, activists targeted with spyware

20 June 2017, 09:09 | Erica Roy

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto

The software in question, known as Pegasus, effectively turns a target's cell phone into a pocket spy, accessing the user's communications, camera and microphone to enable a highly detailed level of surveillance.

For example, in August 2015, journalist and on-air personality for the Mexican national television channel Televisa, Carlos Loret de Mola, received the following SMS message, accompanied with a link.

The Mexican government issued a statement "categorically" denying spying on human rights defenders, journalists, anti- corruption activists or anyone else without proper judicial authorization.

The company, which claims it only sells Pegasus to governments, says it has an agreement with clients that the software be used only to target terrorists and criminals.

"And if you're the kind of government that is going to misuse the software, the likelihood of you doing a robust internal investigation and then telling on yourself is even lower".

"The agents of the Mexican state, far from doing what they should be doing legally, have used our resources, our taxes, our money to commit serious crimes", said Aristegui, who is one of the complainants, speaking at a press conference Monday.

But upon further reflection he changed his mind "because spying opens the door to go farther: the intimidation, the harassment, the censorship, the firings, the beatings, the abductions, the kidnappings, the disappearances, the murders, the impunity that makes it likely that none of this is investigated, that none of it is punished", he said. She got one message that appeared to be sent by the US Embassy in Mexico asking that she click on a link in order to resolve an issue with her visa.

Citizen Lab said some family members of the targets also received spyware messages, including Aristegui's son who was a minor at the time and got at least 21 of them.

Citing a report by a research group that investigated the alleged spying, the complaint says the attorney general's office and the defence ministry were among government organisations that purchased the software. The practice is now spreading to activists and journalists, he said, as movements in favour of human rights and stopping graft gain ground. "It makes it possible to control the flow of information as well as (allowing) abuses of power".

"Enrique Pena Nieto must explain", Aristegui said.

"We are the new enemies of the state", he said. "We don't know if something happened, but in light of this we have a right to think it".

Citizen Lab believes the campaign was orchestrated by the Israeli spyware vendor NSO Group, based on similarities in the code of the spyware and the host domains where it was stored.

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