According to the Associated Press, Hungary’s interior minister, Lajos Kosa, admitted to journalists that the country’s interior ministry had purchased the military-grade spyware Pegasus to eavesdrop on companies, journalists and even an opposition leader. Kosa is the head of the Committee on Defense and Law Enforcement in parliament.
NSO Group, a company based in Israel, created the system. It’s the first time a Hungarian government official has admitted to using malware which has been in the spotlight since a July 2021 showed that Pegasus was used in Hungary.
The usage of NSO Group’s malware was uncovered in July after a large-scale investigation, named as Pegasus Project, into the leak of 50,000 phone numbers of possible surveillance targets.
More than 80 journalists from 17 media organisations in ten countries participated in the inquiry, which was managed by the non-profit media organisation Forbidden Stories with technical assistance from Amnesty International.
The surveillance operation targeted leaders of state, activists and journalists, including the family of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by Saudi operatives in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.
According to a statement issued to Telex, “Hungary’s democratic rule of law, national security, and law enforcement forces have not and will not conduct illegal surveillance since May 29, 2010.The material from Thursday’s Defense and Law Enforcement Committee meeting, which put the Pegasus issue on the table, was encrypted until 2050.”
The US sanctioned four companies this week, including NSO Group, for developing surveillance malware or selling hacking tools used by nation-state actors. NSO Group and Candiru, two Israeli companies, have been sanctioned for developing and selling surveillance software that has been used to spy on journalists and activists.