A new report shows that the Mexican government utilized advanced software to spy on activists, journalists, and anti-graft groups.
The software was deployed as these groups – journalists, activists, and the like – looked into some of the most notorious cases from corruption to abuse of power. The targets received SMS messages with links sending them to sites that seemed trustworthy but ended up being malicious, installing malware on the phones.
An investigation by “the press freedom organization Article 19 and Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto”.
The malware recorded keystrokes and compromised contact lists. It was used against targets ranging from activists pushing for soda taxes to journalists reporting on alleged army atrocities and the lawyers representing the families of the 43 teacher trainees abducted by police.
When unflattering stories hit the headlines, researchers say SMS messages carrying malware links would arrive on the targets’ smartphones. Once activated, “it’s game over”, said John Scott Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab.
The spyware, produced by Israel’s NSO Group, is only sold to governments, prompting researchers to conclude that the spying was state-sponsored – though they cautioned it had “no conclusive evidence attributing these messages to specific government agencies in Mexico”.
The scandal prompted outrage in Mexico, where attacks on the press and activists routinely end in impunity and where six journalists have been murdered in 2017.