A New York Times investigation reveals how the Mexican government used software developed by an Israeli company to hack the phones of anti-corruption lawyers and activists in Mexico.
By Edan Ring
An Israeli cyber and spyware company, NSO, is in the headlines again over its software being used to hack the phones of anti-corruption lawyers and activists in Mexico. Nonetheless, it has been considered a source of “Israeli pride.” Established by veterans of the IDF’s main intelligence unit and run out of Herzliya, NSO’s spying and eavesdropping software – and above all its Pegasus spyware — have earned it global name recognition. Last year, Apple was forced to release an iPhone security update after it was discovered that Pegasus had been used to try and hack the phone of an Emirati human rights activist. The Israeli company had almost managed to take advantage of what was then considered the most secure operating system in the world.
Pegasus is thought to be among the most sophisticated software of its kind. It allows users to remotely take over cellphones and computers, to take pictures with their cameras and record conversations with their microphones, and overall to turn them into spying devices that can pass on huge amounts of their owners’ personal information.
This software has won plaudits from across the world of cyber security, and has raked in money for NSO. The cyber outfit has been valued at around a billion dollars, amid speculation that its investment funder is looking to sell it off — a dream come true for all startup companies in the “Start-up Nation.”
Yet this “Israeli pride” is highly questionable. An expansive investigation by Canadian research center Citizen Lab, published in the New York Times this week, reveals how the Mexican government purchased the Pegasus software and used it to spy on lawyers, journalists and human rights activists working to combat state corruption.
NSO would have charged around $650,000 to track the activity of dozens of iPhones, according to documents previously presented by New York Times researchers, in addition to the $500,000 payment to install the software. Since 2011 the Mexican government has, according to the more recent investigation, paid NSO around $80 million for use of its spyware in order to monitor various human and civil rights advocates and activists....Read More