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Polish officials found to be targeted with Israeli NSO group’s spyware

Amnesty International and Polish news outlet identify attempted hacking against former deputy ministers, government advisers

WARSAW, Poland — Former officials in Poland have been identified among the victims of attempted phone hacking with the use of the powerful Pegasus spyware developed by Israel’s NSO Group, a rights watchdog said Thursday.

Amnesty International said it confirmed the new victims of attempted spying in collaboration with Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza news outlet.

The news outlet identified the alleged targets as former deputy treasury ministers Pawel Tamborski and Rafal Baniak, as well as some advisers in the previous liberal government. They were linked to the 2014 sale of state chemical giant CIECH to a private investor.

The current conservative government, which won power in 2015, says the company was sold at a loss and blames members of the previous administration.

The extent of the attempted hacking wasn’t clear.

In late December, University of Toronto-affiliated security researchers determined that a Polish senator, a lawyer, and a prosecutor — all critics of the governing Law and Justice party — were hacked with Pegasus spyware. These were the first signs that a tool widely abused globally by repressive governments had been used in the European Union country.

Since then, more names have been added to the list. A Senate panel has opened an investigation but has no punitive measures at its disposal.

A Polish Senate commission heard the testimony of two cybersecurity experts, John Scott-Railton and Bill Marczak, senior researchers with the Citizen Lab, a research group based at the University of Toronto, in Warsaw, Poland, on Monday, January 17, 2022. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)

Pegasus spyware is marketed for use exclusively against criminals and terrorists. It gives access to a victim’s smartphone data and can monitor them in real-time using the phone’s microphone and camera.

Poland’s security services insist that any surveillance is only carried out in justified cases and in accordance with the law.

However, the revelations in Poland led ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski to acknowledge publicly for the first time in January that Pegasus was bought by the Polish state. Kaczynski described it as a tool to fight crime and denied that political opponents were targeted.

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