A senior member of the European Parliament is being targeted for spyware abuse

BRUSSELS – As the number of politicians, activists and journalists hacked by spyware swells to include prime ministers and prominent dissidents in the European Union, the world’s biggest democratic club, the European Parliament began checking the phones of its members in April.

There are about 200 devices, he achieved the first positive.

A senior member of the European Parliament from Greece and the leader of the main opposition party there was targeted by malicious spyware last year, an analysis of his phone by the parliament’s technology experts showed.

Politician Nikos Androulakis, who late last year became the leader of Greece’s third-largest political party, the center-left PASOK-KINAL, presented his personal mobile device to a new technical laboratory for detecting spyware in the European Parliament. Brussels.

Late last month, experts told Mr Androulakis that in September 2021, weeks after he announced he would be a candidate for the opposition party leadership in the House, he received a text message with a link to install the spyware Predator. The Pegasus version of the famous spyware on his phone clicked on it.

“Let’s get serious about this friend, there’s something to be gained,” the text read, followed by a link.

Mr. Androulakis, who did not recognize the sender, did not take the bait and so his phone was not infected.

The discovery of the attempt, following incidents in Spain, Hungary and Poland, has fueled concerns that even in the bloc, which claims to be the world’s standard bearer of democracy and the rule of law, such technology is being used for nefarious political purposes.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has deferred the matter to national authorities, but it has been under increasing pressure to act, particularly as it has had its own staff targeted by the spyware.

In a July 25 letter to a member of the European Parliament seen by The New York Times, the European Commission said its top justice official, Didier Reinders, and his staff received notice from Apple in November that their phones had been compromised. spyware. The infection warning and the letter were first published by Reuters.

In a letter to Sophie in t Veld, a Dutch lawmaker who chairs the European Parliament’s special committee on spyware, the European Commission said its experts could not confirm the infection but found “several indicators of compromise” and were able to. You couldn’t find out who was behind them.

“Governments buy these things and it’s very, very hard for them to resist the temptation to use it for political purposes,” said Ms In t Veld, a senior member of parliament.

“It’s too early to tell what’s going on here, but doesn’t it look good?” He said of Mr. Androulakis’s case. “It doesn’t matter if the phone wasn’t hacked, it’s a political fact that there was an attempt,” he added.

The Greek government said in a statement on Monday that the authorities should investigate the case immediately. He strongly denied using the Predator.

Predator software is sold by Cytrox, a company based in North Macedonia. The company’s website has been decommissioned and the email A mailed request for comment to the only address listed elsewhere online, apparently for its CEO, was returned.

Meta and Google have observed the use of realistic-looking links imitating major Greek websites used to infect personal mobile devices with spyware. The link sent to Mr. Androulakis was from one of the fake websites recorded by Meta. The attempt followed a similar attempt to infect the phone of Greek investigative journalist Tanasis Koukakis, although the text message succeeded after Mr Koukakis clicked on the link.

The Greek government, in the summer of 2021, denied being behind Mr Koukakis’ phone infection.

Mr. Androulakis, the Greek opposition leader, filed a lawsuit in Greece’s highest court on Monday to force the Greek authorities to investigate.

“Disclosing who is behind these appalling practices and for whom they act is not a personal matter, it is a democratic duty,” Mr Androulakis said after filing the lawsuit in Athens.

Citizen Lab, the world’s leading spyware experts based at the University of Toronto, said in its Predator report that it was used by the governments of Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Madagascar and Saudi Arabia. The lab says it’s unlikely that companies or individuals can afford spyware that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Predator spyware is a less sophisticated version of Pegasus, software developed by the Israeli company NSO Group to help governments catch criminals and terrorists. The program allows users to monitor all aspects of the target phone – including calls, messages, photos and videos. Predator requires the target to click on a link; Pegasus does not.

In November, the Biden administration blacklisted the NSO Group, saying it knowingly provided spyware used by foreign governments to target dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and others. Around the same time, Apple sued NSO to block it from infecting iPhones; Meta (then Facebook) also sued NSO in 2019 for trying to infect users via WhatsApp.

Last year, a forensic investigation by Citizen Lab, Amnesty International and an international consortium of media organizations revealed that several governments, including members of the European Union, had used Pegasus to land their own citizens.

The European Parliament launched an investigation into the claims and found during a visit to Israel that at least 14 EU governments had purchased Pegasus, two of which had been terminated by the NSO Group. Chaim Gelfand, NSO’s general counsel and chief compliance officer, said one of those outages was because the government was using the software “for purposes other than serious crime and fighting terrorism.”

“Every customer that we sell to, we do our due diligence beforehand to assess the rule of law in this country,” Mr. Gelfand told the committee last month.

Citizens of at least six EU countries have been targeted by spyware, according to a recent study commissioned by European lawmakers. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the country’s defense minister were among those kidnapped. Charles Michel, Belgium’s prime minister at the time, Mr Reinders, the EU’s chief justice, and French President Emmanuel Macron are reportedly among the targets.

According to investigative news outlet Direkt36, authorities in Hungary have executed at least 39 people, including journalists, with the Pegasus software. An official investigation concluded that the Hungarian government had acted lawfully.

The Polish government confirmed in January that it had purchased Pegasus, but denied allegations that it was using it to spy on government critics, despite local media reports of numerous hacks.

In Spain, a report by Citizen Lab, which was confirmed by Amnesty International forensics, revealed that several Catalan public figures were targeted by surveillance software, mainly after the failed 2017 Catalan independence referendum.

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