in Mexico, new spyware victims despite government promises

Despite promises from the authorities, Pegasus spyware continues to be used in Mexico against journalists and human rights defenders. This was established by the Mexican NGO R3D, specialized in the defense of digital freedoms.

It is not the first time that Mexican authorities have been accused of abusing Pegasus. Already in 2017, explosive messages intended to cause an infection by this software capable of sucking up all the contents of a phone had been found in the phones of journalists, lawyers or political figures, without being able to detect a proven infection. This time, the physical evidence was retrieved directly from the victims’ phones by R3D, with the help of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which is a benchmark in spyware detection and analysis.

Read also the archive (2017): In Mexico, the power accused of spying on journalists

Two journalists and an activist are concerned

Three new victims have been identified. Among them is Raymundo Ramos Vazquez, whose phone was hacked at least three times between August and September 2020. This human rights defender has been working on abuses by the Mexican army for years and these facts occurred shortly after speaking publicly. of the army’s involvement in the killing of three civilians. The Citizen Lab notes that during the time his phone was infected, Mr. Vasquez was in regular contact with numerous international human rights associations and organizations.

The second victim just identified is called Ricardo Raphael. This journalist was also hacked three times: in 2019 while promoting his book on the Los Zetas cartel; and in 2020 after publicly denouncing the excesses and failures of the authorities in their fight against cartels. He explained to R3D that he noticed, in 2022, that extracts of his private conversations about him had been sent to some of his interlocutors, no doubt to discredit him.

A third victim, a media reporter Animal policyshe has been found but her identity is kept secret ” For security reasons “. Her phone was infected the day an article about human rights abuses by the Mexican military was published.

Read also: Article reserved for our members “Spyware are very dangerous and devastating tools,” confides Guilhem Giraud, a former intelligence officer

The Mexican government suspected

Given the identity of the victims, the nature of their activity, but also the fact that this spyware is sold to governments only by its creator, the Israeli company NSO Group, the Mexican authorities are the main suspects in these attacks. The Citizen Lab notes, however, that ” in some cases “they are also interesting “for signs”suggesting a double deviation of the instrument.

Asked by Reuters, the NSO group said it could not comment on the case due to lack of data in its possession. The company explained that it could terminate its customers’ contracts if its tool is misused.

Mexico is the first country whose misuse of Pegasus has been documented since 2017: the phones of journalists, lawyers, politicians, activists and human rights defenders were targeted. In 2021 the drafting of the “Pegasus Project”, of which The world, revealed that a significant portion of the entourage of the current Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, then leading the opposition, had been selected for possible spyware surveillance. Beyond this purely political goal, entire sections of Mexican civil society had been targeted by Pegasus.

These new cases of infection by the NSO monitoring tool are sure to reignite the controversy. Especially since, on several occasions since his election in 2018, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador distinguished himself from his predecessor by claiming to give up Pegasus and illegal surveillance.

Read also: Article reserved for our members “Pegasus affair”: one year later, the twilight of the NSO Group

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