Report: Mexican soda tax advocates targeted by spyware campaign

Report: Mexican soda tax advocates targeted by spyware campaign

Advocates for a soda tax in Mexico were targeted with government-exclusive spyware, a prominent laboratory reported.

University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which investigates the use of hacking to impact public policy, released their findings over the weekend. Citizen Lab said the attackers tried to install spyware purportedly only sold to governments onto the devices of those who prominently backed the soda tax.

Simón Barquera, a Mexican government health scientist, and Alejandro Calvillo and Luis Encarnación, both of whom direct Mexican health advocacy groups, received an uncommonly aggressive flurry of phishing text messages to try to install spyware known as Pegasus. 

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Pegasus was developed by the Israeli government contractor, the NGO Group. NGO claims to sell the spyware only to governments. Citizen Lab report notes that the Mexican government signed a $20 million deal with NGO in 2012.

Citizen Lab, which nicknamed the campaign, “Bitter Sweet” believes the Mexican government might have conducted the attack, both due to the restricted access to the malware and because the attacks were conducted so "brazenly" on Mexican soil.