pegasus spyware

Mexico continue to use mercenary spyware, Pegasus

New research shows that journalists and human rights defenders located in Mexico were hacked using Pegasus, spyware made by Israeli technology firm NSO Group, as recently as 2021. 

The research shows that the Mexican government used the software even after it had publicly promised to stop doing so. NSO Group has claimed in the past that its software would only be used by its government clients to combat crime and terrorism, but last year, the software was revealed to have been used on 15,000 non-criminal individuals, including children and victims of state-sponsored crime. After this information was revealed, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised his country would no longer use Pegasus. 

How was the latest use discovered? 

The most recent research on Mexico’s continued use and abuse of the software was conducted by R3D and The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, two digital rights researchers. For their part, NSO Group denied any fault in the matter, claiming that they only made the weapon but never fired it: “NSO licenses Pegasus solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of sovereign states and government agencies following approval by the Israeli government. When we determine wrongdoing, we terminate contracts.” 

What’s the attraction to the targets? 

Their study shows that human rights defenders (and two journalists who report on government corruption) were amongst Pegasus’ latest victims. One of the journalists, Raymundo Ramos, was hacked at least three times by the government, including after his coverage of footage showing Mexican army soldiers murdering citizens. In response to NSO, a spokesman for Citizen Lab said, “NSO’s claims to be the only party that can ‘truly’ verify infections is like a robber claiming to be the only one who can truly confirm whether he committed a crime.” 

Citizen Lab’s statement says: “These latest cases, which come years after the first revelations of problematic Pegasus targeting in Mexico, illustrate the abuse potential of mercenary spyware in a context of flawed public accountability and transparency. Even in the face of global scrutiny, domestic outcry, and a new administration that pledged to never use spyware, the targeting of journalists and human rights defenders with Pegasus spyware continued in Mexico.” 

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