BEACON TRANSCRIPT – A report released on Saturday announced that Mexican public health activists might have been the victims of Israeli spyware software which was sold to the Mexican government. The software has been developed to counterattack terrorism but, in this case, it has been used for commercial interests.
The activists who were targeted by the hacking are Alejandro Calvillo and Luis Encarnación, public health advocates, and Simon Barquera, public health researcher. They are known to have led campaigns against sugary drinks and junk food after the rates of obesity in Mexico increased.
A campaign who had Calvillo as its leader led to the imposing of a tax on sodas. Now, he is conducting a campaign for the labeling of products with warning regarding the sugar quantity. These measures had a great impact on public health. However, the food and drink industry tried to convince the government not to take such drastic measures.
The report revealed that Pegasus, a spyware developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, was used in an attempt to hack Calvillo’s cellphone. The spyware would have enabled the hackers to listen to phone calls, access messages and other personal data, and activate cameras.
A previous report showed that, back in 2012, the Mexican government had signed a contract with NSO Group worth $20 million. However, the company and the Israeli Ministry of Defense refused to comment on this.
Calvillo revealed that the hacking attempt arrived last year as a message from an unknown number. The message contained a link to a fake news story, which afterwards redirected him to the webpage of a funeral site.
The NSO Group responded to the attack and denied that their software could be used in such hacking attempts. They declared that their software was meant only for investigation and prevention of terrorism and other criminal activities.
Therefore, the reports suggest that the surveillance software might have been “misused”, since it was not used for the initial purpose of fighting crime, but for commercial interests. Moreover, the Pegasus spyware has reportedly been used in an attack against a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates, as well as a Mexican journalist.
We do not know for sure who were behind the attack, but Calvillo suspects either the government or the food and drink companies that would benefit from the canceling of his campaigns.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons