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Politics

Predator Spyware Cases Targeting Greek MEP, Journalist Rattle Politics

ATHENS – The leader of Greece’s center-left PASOK-KINAL party and Member of the European Parliament Nikos Androulakis said it was “suspicious” that there was an attempt to put spyware on his cell phone and wants answers.

That came after the invasive tool, Predator, successfully infiltratated the phone of journalist Thanassis Koukakis and the head of the National Intelligence Service (EYP) admitted doing it, saying it was in “the national interest” to spy on a reporter. He filed a complaint with the European Human Rights Court.

There was also an attempt to surveil phones of the KKE Communists, said Kathimerini, although the New Democracy government denied having any part and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis – to whom EYP reports – ordered an investigation.

Spyware allows hackers to capture a target’s phone and all the data and information, which could compromise whistleblowers and journalist’s sources, including including calls, messages, photos and video.

Androulakis filed a lawsuit with Greece’s top court Monday to try to compel Greek authorities to investigate and find out who sent the link and why and if it was an attempt to undermine him or his party.

“Revealing who’s behind these appalling practices and who they are acting for isn’t a personal matter; it’s a democratic duty,” Androulakis said after filing the lawsuit in Athens, The New York Times said.

The cases could have political repercussions, coming just after Mitsotakis ruled out early elections and faces a re-election campaign in 2023 in which PASOK-KINAL, which ranks third in polls, could be a deciding factor in forming a government if no winner gets a majority.

Androulakis, who has resurrected the dormant center-left in Greece, sent his phone to the European Parliament’s new spyware-detecting lab in Brussels in June and was told late in July that an attempt to in infect it was made in September, 2021, The Times said.

That was on the eve of elections for the party that merged two elements and renamed itself after being called the Movement for Change and started gaining more notice and popularity.

The lab experts told himhe had received a text message with a link that would have installed the spyware Predator, a less sophisticated vesion of the Pegasus spyware that can inflect a phone without a link being clicked on.

Predator requires the user to click on a link to get in and in this case the viral text he received said, “Let’s look at this seriously friend, there’s something to gain,” and had a link attached. He didn’t recognize the sender and didn’t click.

In a letter to Sophie in ’t Veld, a Dutch lawmaker who heads European Parliament’s special committee on spyware, the European Commission said its analysts couldn’t confirm it but found “several indicators of compromise” and could not ascertain who was behind them, The Times said.

BIG BROTHER’S PHONE

“Governments are buying this stuff, and it’s very, very difficult for them to resist the temptation to use it for political purposes,” said in ’t Veld, a senior member of the Parliament overseeing probes into spyware.

“It’s too early to say what’s going on here, but it doesn’t look good, does it?” she said of Androulakis’ case. “It doesn’t matter if the phone wasn’t compromised; the political fact is that there was an attempt,” she added.

Androulakis was he decided to give his phone to the European Parliament lab team because of so many cases of unlawful surveillance against politicians, as well as journalsts, mostly through the Israeli-made Pegasus program.

He was informed that a hacking attempt had been made by sending him a website link, blogspot.edolio.com, which mimicked the legitimate edolio.blogspot.com site, said Kathimerini.

A December 2021 report by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab found out that Cytrox, which was founded in 2017 and based in North Macedonia, is selling the Predator spyware to governments, which the paper said could have consequences for New Democracy if the attempt was made by a state agency.

Cytrox was acquired for $5 million in 2018 by the Intellexa Group founded by Israeli businessman Tal Dilian who was operating in Cyprus where an alleged spy truck was found, prompting him to leave there and move his company’s headquarters to Athens.

Meta and Google have documented the use of realistic-looking links, which mimic mainstream Greek websites, being used to infect personal mobile devices with the spyware, The Times added.

The link sent to Androulakis was from one of the fake websites recorded by Meta and Citizen Lab, the world’s foremost experts on spyware, based at the University of Toronto, said Predator was being used by the governments of Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Madagascar and Saudi Arabia.

The lab has said it is highly unlikely that companies or individuals have been able to buy the spyware, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, the report also added, indicating that it’s being purchased by govements or those with means.

The Board of Directors of the Athens Newspapers Journalist’s Union noted it sought answers on April 13 about the monitoring of Koukakis and was told the “legal monitoring of a financial reporting journalist is necessary.

“Why after so many months and while a public prosecutor’s investigation has been ordered there are still no explanations for his re-monitoring,” the union said in a statement about the case and its implications.

“In a privileged state, the monitoring of journalists and politicians is a matter of the functioning of the Republic and the Rule of Law” and said that, “The the clarification of the case acquires the highest value for the defense of individual rights and the independence of the investigative journalism.”

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