Businessman admits to working as spyware broker in US and Mexico

He pleaded guilty to brokering spyware and surveillance tools.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

A businessman has pleaded guilty to charges laid against him for selling and using surveillance tools and malware in Mexico and the United States. 

On February 15, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said that Carlos Guerrero, a resident of Chula Vista, California and Tijuana, Mexico, admitted to "conspiring to sell and use hacking tools manufactured by private companies in Italy, Israel and elsewhere."

The 48-year-old appeared in a San Diego federal court, where prosecutors alleged that Guerrero owned a number of companies registered in the US and Mexico that were used as sales brokers for "interception and surveillance tools."

According to the DoJ, the firms worked with Mexican government clientele, commercial, and private customers. 

In 2014 and 2015, Guerrero worked with an Italian company that developed tools for hacking devices and tracking victim locations. 

Over time, the businessman expanded his reach and secured further brokerage deals with other surveillance software developers located in Israel and elsewhere. 

By 2016 - 2017, Guerrero was brokering the sales of hardware able to jam signals, kits designed to intercept and eavesdrop on Wi-Fi connections, IMSI catchers, and software able to compromise the WhatsApp messaging system. 

"Guerrero admitted to knowing that, in some cases, his Mexican government clients intended to use the interception equipment for political purposes, rather than for legitimate law enforcement purposes," prosecutors say. 

In one example, Guerrero "knowingly" arranged for a mayor in Mexico to use the brokered technologies to break into a rival's iCloud, Hotmail, and Twitter accounts. In another, a Florida-based sales representative was targeted for their phone and email records in exchange for a $25,000 payment. 

Guerrero is yet to be sentenced. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

"The world we live in is increasingly interconnected by technology meant to improve our lives, but as seen in this case, this same technology can be acquired by bad actors with harmful intentions," commented Chad Plantz, Special Agent in Charge for HSI San Diego. "HSI and our law enforcement partners will remain committed to bringing to justice those who attempt to manipulate these platforms for nefarious purposes."

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