At least 180 journalists around the world have been targeted by an Israeli spyware virus. Among these targets, there were 300 Hungarian phone numbers connected to journalists, lawyers, business people and even a journalist’s ex-wife was targeted, the phone number being under her ex-husband’s name.
“In communist-era Hungary, citizens were recruited to spy on their neighbours and report any potential threats to the secret police. In the Hungary of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a spyware tool has been deployed to similar effect, monitoring people with technology that can turn smartphones into troves of information.” – writes the Washington Post.
As Daily News Hungary has already reported, NSO Group, an Israeli security company, had the Hungarian government among its clients to use the Pegasus spyware. This spyware uses phone defaults to access phone conversations, private information, emails, messages, photos and videos. The phone defaults that the spyware uses to its advantage are many times unknown even to the developers.
Pegasus is deemed the most dangerous spyware in the world. The company needs the approval of the Ministry of Defence of Israel to sell it to other countries.
The virus is sent to the phone through a trap link that persuades the victim to open and activate it. Sometimes it can also start itself, as a zero-click hack. Then the spyware captures and copies the phone’s most basic functions and collects camera and microphone recordings, location data, call logs and contacts – The Washington Post further explains.
The scandal made international headlines, and the Hungarian government does not seem to deny the accusations of spying on its citizens. The Guardian asked the Hungarian government about the issue, to which a spokesperson replied that they are “not aware of any alleged data collection claimed by the request.” The government communications office gave another answer:
“Have you asked the same questions of the governments of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Germany or France? In the case you have, how long did it take for them to reply, and how did they respond? Was there any intelligence service to help you formulate the questions?”
Edward Snowden, former computer intelligence consultant who leaked highly classified information from the American National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013, reacted in a Twitter post to the news that he calls “the story of the year”.
“Hungary gave the most incriminating response I’ve ever seen to a request for comment on the #Pegasus surveillance scandal. I mean, whenever I’m “not aware” of whether I did something or not, I demand to know if foreign spies tipped you off about it.” – he wrote.
Meanwhile, it was brought to the public’s information that Le Monde, a French newspaper that collaborated in the investigation about Pegasus, interviewed Hungarian Minister of Justice Judit Varga earlier in July. They asked her if she would allow spying on journalists and political opponents. Varga was allegedly angry at this question, saying it was a provocation. The day after, a request from the ministry was sent to Le Monde to delete the question and the answer from the interview. – writes Telex.