Mexican politicians targeted with spyware, research shows

Mexican politicians targeted with spyware, research shows
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Three Mexican politicians were targeted by spyware that is sold to governments last year, according to new research.

The Toronto-based Citizen Lab reported Thursday that the politicians — all associated with Mexico’s conservative National Action Party — had been sent text messages with links that would provide access to cellphones if a target followed the link.

The spyware is developed by the NSO Group, a cyber company based in Israel that sells smartphone surveillance software to governments. While it is unclear who targeted the politicians, previous reporting indicates that the Mexican government has done business with NSO.

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According to Citizen Lab, the targets included Ricardo Anaya Cortés, the president of Mexico’s National Action Party, Senator Roberto Gil Zuarth and Fernando Rodríguez Doval, communications secretary of the National Action Party. 

They are said to have been targeted with the spyware between June and July of last year.

“While we are not privy to the reasons behind the timing of the targeting, it may be relevant that during this particular timeframe, anti-corruption legislation was being discussed in Congress,” the researchers wrote.

The latest report builds on previous research by Citizen Lab, in partnership with Mexican nongovernmental organizations, demonstrating the use of the spyware against targets in Mexico. 

Earlier in June, the laboratory — which is based at the University of Toronto — revealed that the advanced software had been deployed against journalists and human rights and anti-corruption advocates in Mexico. 

The research has turned up no conclusive evidence connecting the spyware to the Mexican government, though reporting by The New York Times in 2016 revealed that Mexico has done business with the NSO Group. 

The company’s software, called “Pegasus,” provides access to cellphones if a target clicks on a link.

- Updated at 5:31 p.m.