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Investigative Photojournalist Also Monitored by Pegasus Spyware

Júlia Tar 2021.09.22.

Photojournalist Dániel Németh was monitored by Pegasus spy software, investigate site Direkt36 reports. Németh has been documenting the foreign luxury trips of pro-government businessmen and politicians.

Since the 2020 investigation of the Pegasus Project, it is not news that journalists were among targets, too. However, a new name has now been added to the list: Dániel Németh, a Hungarian photojournalist. As The Guardian writes, “the 46-year-old has managed to use his drone, and public flight and ship-tracking data, to find and photograph politicians and pro-government business figures, exposing their hidden luxuries such as yachts in exotic locations.” These included, for example, pictures of Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó on a yacht.

Foreign Minister Caught Vacationing on Pro-Govt Businessman's Yacht While Posting Office Photos
Foreign Minister Caught Vacationing on Pro-Govt Businessman's Yacht While Posting Office Photos

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó has been caught vacationing with his family on the Adriatic Sea on a luxury private yacht belonging to a pro-government businessman. The Foreign Ministry argues that Szijjártó works even when he is on holiday but, according to the state news agency’s report, did not reflect on […]Continue reading

Németh also took photos of businessman Lőrinc Mészáros, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s friend, who is also said to be Hungary’s richest man by Hungarian Forbes. According to Direkt36, the photojournalist’s phone was monitored while investigating Mészáros’ cases.

Németh suspected that he might be monitored and took security measures. For example, he asked a friend to buy him a plane ticket to Italy to follow Mészáros and changed his phone to one that he hasn’t been using for a while. The phone had been inactive for so long that he had to reactivate its SIM card. But the “tricks” did not work, he says, as a day later, his old phone got infected as well.

Orbán Gov't Accused of Using 'Pegasus' Spyware Against Political Opponents, Journalists
Orbán Gov't Accused of Using 'Pegasus' Spyware Against Political Opponents, Journalists

"Hungary is a democratic state governed by the rule of law, and as such, when it comes to any individual it has always acted and continues to act in accordance with the law in force," the government said.Continue reading

“Mr. Mészáros does not pay attention to neither Dániel Németh, nor any other paparazzi’s activities, whereabouts or incidents related to them,” a spokesperson for Mészáros’s company told The Guardian.

Minister of Justice Judit Varga was also asked by RTL Klub if she gave permission for Dániel Németh to be monitored. The reporter received no answer.

Later in a Facebook post, the Justice Minister wrote that “the fake news network” had again launched a “defamatory campaign.” Varga criticized RTL Klub’s journalist for not only not reporting from the conference on victim support which she attended, but also immediately questioning her when she “barely stepped off the stage” after her presentation. She believes the aim was to divert attention from “the tragicomedy of the opposition,” but she had “no illusions about the media flirting with the organizations of Soros.”

According to Varga, the Pegasus case is “a well-structured international hysteria,” and she had already said everything about the topic that “could be said within the legal framework.” She also underscored that the Minister for Internal Affairs, Sándor Pintér, “provided detailed information to the Parliamentary Commission of National Security on Monday.” (However, this was immediately classified until 2050).

What is Pegasus and how does it work?

Pegasus was created by the NSO Group Technologies, “NSO” standing for Niv, Shalev, and Omri, the names of the company’s founders. It is an Israeli technology firm primarily known for its proprietary spyware, Pegasus. While the earliest version of Pegasus infected phones with spear-phishing, meaning that the user had to click on a link for the spyware to work, it has since advanced. After all, it is named after Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology because it is like a Trojan horse that can be sent “flying through the air” to infect cell phones.

Direkt36: Media Owner Páva's Surveillance Began After Working Contract with Opposition Party was Published
Direkt36: Media Owner Páva's Surveillance Began After Working Contract with Opposition Party was Published

Páva's surveillance has had special relevance because previous reporting on the case only showed the use of the program for Hungarian targets in 2018 and 2019.Continue reading

Since 2016, it is capable of remote zero-click surveillance of smartphones. This means that it can infect mobile phones without its owner having to click on any suspicious-looking link. It works without any interaction from the owner. To succeed, Pegasus infections “will often exploit ‘zero-day’ vulnerabilities, which are flaws or bugs in an operating system that the mobile phone’s manufacturer does not yet know about and so has not been able to fix,’ The Guardian writes.

For example, in 2019, WhatsApp, the world’s most popular messaging app with over 2 billion users, was used by Pegasus. The method was simply to place a WhatsApp call to a target device and malicious Pegasus code could be installed on the phone, even if the target never answered the call. More than 1,400 users had been hacked this way.

If neither the phishing nor the zero-click attacks work, Pegasus can be installed over a wireless transceiver near the target, and according to an NSO brochure, it can even be manually installed by an agent who steals their target’s phone.

Pegasus is capable of reading text messages, tracking calls, collecting passwords, tracking location, accessing the target device’s microphone and camera, and harvesting information from apps.

Orbán Gov't Under Fire as EP Debates Pegasus Scandal
Orbán Gov't Under Fire as EP Debates Pegasus Scandal

According to Hungary's ruling Fidesz MEP Tamás Deutsch, no illegal surveillance was done in Hungary.Continue reading

NSO’s spokesperson Zamir Dahbash said that the company’s “mission is to help make the world a safer place by providing authorized governments with technology that helps them combat terror and crime.”

What happened previously with Pegasus in Hungary?

The Pegasus Project is a collaborative investigation run by 17 news outlets, among them Hungarian investigative and whistleblower platform, Direkt36. The French nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International also helped the investigation. The team has discovered that multiple national governments are actively using Pegasus to target political opponents, primarily journalists, politicians, and businessmen. According to Telex, there were more than 300 Hungarians on the list of possible targets.

The targets also include former members of the government. For example, former state secretary, Attila Aszódi. His phone number can be found among those that had been leaked. According to Direkt36, Aszódi’s phone number used for his official work-related calls became a target at the end of 2018. However, Aszódi’s number being on the list does not automatically mean that it was monitored. To confirm the presence of spyware or its traces, the phone needs to be scanned by a specialized laboratory, which has not happened in Aszódi’s case, as he had to return the device after his dismissal in 2019. Former State Secretary of the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, Balázs Weingartner’s phone number was also found on the list.

Secrecy Surrounds Hungary's Pegasus as Investigations Hit Roadblocks
Secrecy Surrounds Hungary's Pegasus as Investigations Hit Roadblocks

In Direkt36's most recent discovery, traces of the spyware were found on a Hungarian investigative journalist's phone.Continue reading

Featured photo illustration via pixabay.com


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