EU Journalists Criticized Russia – and Got Hacked

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A new investigation reveals that EU journalists and activists who have been critical of Russia were targeted with NSO’s Pegasus spyware.

These cyberattacks reportedly targeted Russian, Belarusian, Latvian, and Israeli journalists and activists within the EU who were alerted to the intrusions through Apple threat notifications on their iPhones.

According to Interesting Engineering, one anonymous Belarusian civil society member based in Lithuania received an Apple threat notification on June 22, 2023, that alerted them to a state-sponsored attack on their device. After receiving help from Citizen Lab, it was revealed their device was infected with Pegasus spyware.

Natalia Radzina is another Belarusian journalist, editor-in-chief of the independent Belarusian media website, who was attacked by Pegasus spyware twice, both in late 2022 and in early 2023.

Researchers have not been able to definitively identify the state or state agency behind the recent hacking attempts, but technical indicators show they may have been conducted by the same NSO client.

Pegasus is praised as one of the world’s most sophisticated cyberweapons and is utilized by nations procuring technology from NSO. When successfully deployed, the spyware can infiltrate any phone, access photos and calls, track a person’s location, and activate the recorder – effectively turning the phone into a listening device.

While the company claims the intended use is for combating crime, Interesting Engineering reports that researchers have uncovered various instances where operators (including EU states) allegedly employed it for other means, such as surveilling political adversaries and journalists.

Although Russia seems to be a logical suspect for these recent attacks, some researchers have shifted their focus to the EU in the claim that Russia or Belarus are unlikely to be customers of NSO.

NSO Group claims to sell its spyware exclusively to vetted law enforcement agencies to combat crime and terrorism, and while it neither confirms nor denies specific customers, the company emphasizes it only supplies its products to “allies of Israel and the US.”