Mexican journalists targeted by spyware technology

2nd August 2017: A report released by SRT grantee Citizen Lab has shown that lawyers acting in a high-profile murder case in Mexico were targeted by spyware of a kind only sold to governments. Karla Micheel Salas and David Peña received text messages containing links to ‘Pegasus’ spyware created by the Israeli cyberarms dealer NSO group.

Salas and Peña are representing family members of Nadia Vera and Rubén Espinosa, an activist and journalist, who were tortured and murdered in July 2015 alongside three acquaintances. Vera and Espinosa had been critical of the then-governor of the Mexican state of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, and had received numerous threats in the course of their work. They fled Veracruz to Mexico City, hoping the distance would protect them; however they, along with three other people present at the scene, were brutally murdered.

Protests followed the Mexico City Attorney General’s investigation into the murder, which was widely perceived as inadequate (the case was ruled to be a robbery). The families of the victims contracted Salas and Peña to push for an investigation. In September and October 2015, Salas and Peña received text messages containing links which, if clicked on, would have allowed the operators to surreptitiously track their movements, phone calls, emails and text messages, as well as record their voices and take pictures.

Citizen Lab has detailed 21 cases of the use of NSO Group products in Mexico against government opposition officials, human rights groups, journalists and now lawyers. The attempt to infect the lawyers uses attack infrastructure seen in previous attacks.

Ron Deibert, Director of Citizen Lab, said, “[W]e fully expect to find more cases of the abuse of NSO Group technology, not just in Mexico but in other jurisdictions “.

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