Pegasus spyware used to target at least seven journalists and activists in the EU — Novaya Gazeta Europe
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Pegasus spyware used to target at least seven journalists and activists in the EU

A joint investigation by Citizen Lab and Access Now released on Thursday has established that at least seven Russian and Belarusian dissidents living in the EU were subjected to surveillance by Israeli-made spyware Pegasus between August 2020 and January 2023.

Pegasus spyware allows third parties to access messages, phone calls, photos, GPS location and even to turn on a device’s camera or microphone. Although its developer markets the software as a tool to combat crime and terrorism, its use by governments to spy on political opponents has caused widespread concern.

Among the journalists to receive a warning from Apple that their phone had been compromised was Novaya Gazeta Europe CEO Maria Epifanova, whose phone was infected on 18 August 2020 — the earliest use of Pegasus Citizen Lab was able to detect. Shortly beforehand, Epifanova attended the first press conference given by the exiled Belarusian opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

Other affected individuals included Belarusian opposition politician Andrey Sannikov, Belarusian journalist Natalya Radina, Novaya Gazeta Baltic correspondent Yevgeny Pavlov, Russian-Israeli journalist Yevgeny Erlikh, as well as an unnamed Belarusian activist and an unnamed Russian journalist living in Vilnius.

Galina Timchenko, the founder and publisher of the independent Russian news website Meduza, also had her phone infected with the spyware in 2023, the report added.

Citizen Lab, which studies information controls, online freedom and security, and threats to human rights, said that it had not been able to establish who was behind the cyber attacks, but said that it was continuing to investigate the matter. The report also said that the governments of Poland, Russia and Belarus were unlikely to have been behind the attacks as none of them hold a licence for the technology.

The attacks on the prominent journalists and activists have led many to criticise Pegasus for facilitating breaches of privacy and human rights violations. Despite this, the software continues to be available to government agencies to potentially misuse.

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