Thursday, January 13, 2022

El Faro extensively hacked (Jan. 13, 2022)

At least twenty-two members of El Faro -- two-thirds of the online newspaper's staff -- were hacked during the past two years using the Israeli spyware Pegasus, according to a technical analysis led by The Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary cybersecurity laboratory at the University of Toronto, in collaboration with Access Now.

“This is one of the most shocking and obsessive cases of targeting that we have investigated,” The Citizen Lab’s senior researcher John Scott-Railton told El Faro.

The phones of the editorial board, reporters, and administrative team were compromised, in some cases for as long as a year. The analysis identified a total of 226 intrusions gaining unfettered access to messages, calls, and all content stored on the devices, reports El Faro. The hacks coincided with the timeline of the newsroom’s most sensitive investigative work during the last two years, major events in El Salvador’s national politics, and peak moments of government attacks against the organization.

"It is hard for me to think or conclude something other than the government of El Salvador" was behind the alleged hacks, El Faro Editor-in-Chief Oscar Martinez told Reuters. "It's evident that there is a radical interest in understanding what El Faro is doing."

In a statement to Reuters, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele's communications office said the government of El Salvador was not a client of NSO Group Technologies, the company that developed Pegasus. It said the administration is investigating the alleged hacking and had information that some top administration officials also might have had their phones infiltrated.

NSO, which has long kept its client list confidential, declined to comment on whether El Salvador was a customer. 

The revelation came just months after the American government blacklisted the Israeli firm that produces Pegasus, the NSO Group, in an attempt to curb the largely unregulated global market in spyware, reports the New York Times.

Citizen Lab researchers said they began a forensic analysis of the El Salvador phones in September after being contacted by two journalists there who suspected their devices might be compromised. Researchers said they ultimately found evidence that spyware had been planted on a total of 37 devices belonging to three human-rights groups, six news publications and an independent journalist. (Reuters)

More El Salvador
  • A newly named Salvadoran judge authorized the attorney general's office to confiscate electronic equipment from prosecutors and ex prosecutors who investigated Bukele administration officials for corruption. The court order responds to allegations that the prosecutors allegedly revealed information about government negotiations with gangs, reports El Faro.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2022

Latin America is facing some of its gravest human rights challenges in decades, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2022.

“Latin America is experiencing such an alarming reversal of basic freedoms that we now have to defend democratic spaces that we once took for granted,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Americas acting director at Human Rights Watch. “Even democratically elected leaders attacked independent civil society, the free press, and judicial independence. Millions of people were forced to leave their homes and countries, and the economic and social impact of the pandemic has been devastating.”

The report highlights the Cuban government's systematic abuses against critics and artists; Nicaragua's sham elections last year, and alleged crimes against humanity committed by Venezuelan security forces. But it also looks at how elected leaders with authoritarian tendencies -- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele -- have also repeatedly tried to undermine the rule of law.

News Briefs

  • "Covid-19 has deepened Central America’s socioeconomic crisis, worsening poverty and inequality, putting democracy at even graver risk, and increasing the urgency for socioeconomic, legal, and institutional reforms of the system of privileges and perks for the elites and to establish a more equitable distribution of income and wealth. But the region’s form of capitalism, which has so obviously failed, continues to operate with impunity," writes Alexander Segovia at the Aula Blog.

  • The Catholic Church is losing ground in Latin America, despite leadership from the region's first pope. Catholicism has lost adherents to other faiths in the region, especially Pentecostalism, and more recently to the ranks of the unchurched, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva retains a clear lead for this year's presidential election in Brazil: he would get 45 percent of the votes against 23 percent for the country's incumbent, President Jair Bolsonaro if the election were held today, according to a newly published Banco Genial/Quaest Pesquisas poll. (Reuters)

  • Bolsonaro has involved the military in his government to a point unprecedented in Brazil's democracy, appointing active-duty and reserve military officers to important civilian posts in his administration. Hundreds of military and police political candidates have leveraged the Bolsonaro far-right political wave to win office in recent elections. While Bolsonaro's political fortunes have waned, the military "is taking steps to ensure that its newfound power will persist no matter who wins the presidential race," reports The Intercept.

  • Folha de São Paulo reported, last week, that the Brazilian Army has altered its 2022 military exercise schedule, to free up forces during the October election period. According to the report, Army commanders justified the changes on the grounds of “fears” of “incidents of violence during or after the October election.” During this period, they reportedly determined, “the entire force must be available for potential needs.”

  • Three members of a family of turtle breeders in the Brazilian state of Pará were assassinated. Brazil was ranked the fourth-deadliest country for land and environmental defenders in 2020, according to Global Witness. (Guardian)

  • Landslides and flooding caused by torrential rains have killed at least 15 people in Brazil's Minas Gerais state between Sunday and Tuesday. (BBC)
  • The Central American Bank for Economic Integration said it would give Cuba a loan of 46.7 million euros to ramp up the country's production of nationally developed Covid-19 vaccines for both domestic use and export. (Reuters)
  • Mexico has refused to close its borders during the Covid-19 pandemic: For a country such as Mexico, which depends on tourism for nearly 9 percent of its gross domestic product and has a massive flow of migrants, workers and students across its nearly 2,000-mile border with the United States, the cost of imposing travel restrictions “is too high compared to the usefulness,” Coronavirus Czar Hugo López-Gatell told the Washington Post.

  • Some Mexican states have started rolling out vaccination mandates for bars and events, reports the Washington Post.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

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