Did Mexico Drop $5 Million On This 'Unlimited' Uber-Stealth Spy Tech?

Mexico is one of the biggest buyers of next-generation surveillance technology. And now data leaked to Forbes indicates it's taken an unprecedented step in becoming the first-known buyer of surveillance technology that silently spies on calls, text messages and locations of any mobile phone user, via a long-vulnerable portion of global telecoms networks known as Signalling System No. 7 (SS7).

The revelation was contained in what an anonymous source close claimed was internal sales information from Israeli provider Ability Inc., which appeared to have sold its Unlimited Interception System (ULIN) to Mexico. With prices ranging between $5 and $20 million, ULIN enables silent, almost-undetectable snooping on cellphones, and all that's required is a telephone number, according to a leaked manual detailed by Forbes in 2016.

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It comes at a time when Mexico is wrapped up in a spyware scandal. Researchers found this year that activists, journalists, murder victims' attorneys, and investigators into a mass student disappearance have been targeted by the Pegasus spyware, a creation of $1 billion-valued Israeli firm NSO Group. So far no Mexican agency has been accused of running the software. But New York Times' reports were swiftly followed by public protests in June. President Enrique Peña Nieto called for an inquiry (while at the same time denying his government was responsible.) In August, an NSO Group spokesperson said the company was "deeply disturbed by any alleged misuse of our product," but didn't address any of the specific allegations.

 

Now, adding to the anxiety is ULIN, a technology that allows silent spying on calls, text and location for any mobile phone on the planet. All a potential snooper needs is a target's telephone or IMEI number. Distance from target doesn’t hinder the technology and attacks are incredibly hard to detect, making it potentially more potent than NSO's spyware. ULIN takes advantage of SS7, the vulnerable area of telecom infrastructure used to shift customers between networks when travelling abroad.