New Pegasus Cases in Poland: Two Opposition Figures Targeted With Spyware

Project Pegasus consortium and Amnesty reveals that the personal assistant and father of Polish senator were both targeted ahead of 2019 general election

Omer Benjakob
Omer Benjakob
Polish Senator Krzysztof Brejza and his wife Dorota Brejza, who is also his lawyer, in the halls of parliament in Warsaw, Poland, last month.
Polish Senator Krzysztof Brejza and his wife Dorota Brejza, who is also his lawyer, in the halls of parliament in Warsaw, Poland, last month.Credit: Adam Jankowski /AP
Omer Benjakob
Omer Benjakob

Two political officials critical of the ruling party in Poland and active in the country’s opposition were found to have been targeted with the Pegasus spyware developed by Israel’s NSO Group, the Project Pegasus consortium revealed Thursday.

A digital forensic analysis of the phones by Amnesty International, coordinated by the Paris-based NGO Forbidden Stories, found that they both received text messages consistent with previous attempted Pegasus infections.

The messages sent to them contained suspicious links and were sent ahead of the Polish election in 2019. The findings are in line with the timeline of the previous Pegasus infections discovered in Poland by Citizen Lab and the Associated Press.

AP revealed at the end of 2021 that Polish Sen. Krzysztof Brejza was targeted with Pegasus. Now, the Project Pegasus consortium, which includes Die Zeit, Wyborcza, the Washington Post and Haaretz, can also reveal that Brejza’s assistant, Magdalena Losko, and Brejza’s father, Ryszard Brejza, were also targeted. Losko is now a serving member of the Polish parliament.

<<< The NSO File: A Complete (Updating) List of Individuals Targeted With Pegasus Spyware >>>

While the previously revealed Polish targets were all infected using what is termed a zero-click infection, which can install the spyware on an iPhone without the phone’s owner doing anything, the two new victims used Android phones, requiring them to click on some nefarious link to be infected. Forensic analysis of the phones could not confirm the successful infection, only the links to what seems to be a Pegasus-installing server.

According to the investigation by the Project Pegasus consortium – a group of 18 news outlets across the world investigating a leaked database of tens of thousands of numbers selected for possible surveillance by NSO’s clients – the phone numbers of Losko and Brejza Sr. both appear in the database of potential targets.

Amnesty found that Brejza’s father’s phone received at least 10 suspicious messages between July and August 2019. Losko, who was at the time leading Brejza’s European Parliament campaign, received at least four such messages.

NSO and Pegasus are facing massive scrutiny in the European Union, with some calling to ban their spyware and others.

NSO’s technology allows its clients, usually state intelligence agencies, to remotely hack into cellphones. This includes iPhones, making use of a loophole in Apple’s defenses that was only recently made public.

Working with Citizen Lab, the Associated Press published a string of exclusive reports recently revealing that at least three prominent Polish opposition figures had their phones hacked using the spyware in recent years. Among those hacked were a high-profile lawyer who represents members of the Polish opposition, a Polish prosecutor challenging attempts by the populist right-wing government to purge the judiciary and Sen. Brejza.

Brejza’s mobile phone, Citizen Lab found, was hacked with the sophisticated Pegasus spyware some 33 times from April 26, 2019, to October 23, 2019. At the time, AP reports, he was running the opposition’s campaign against the ruling Law and Justice party in the country’s parliamentary election. Text messages stolen from Brejza’s phone were then doctored into a smear campaign and aired by state-controlled TV during the race, which the ruling party narrowly won.

A spokesperson for the body in Poland suspected of buying and using the spyware said in response to a request for comment to the Pegasus Project that it cannot comment on specific individuals and other issues related to its “operational work,” and would not comment on whether any specific individuals had been subjected to methods of “operational work.” They added that any reports claiming the spyware was used for “political purposes” were false.

NSO said in response that “without referring to any specific governmental customer, a misuse of cyberintelligence tools is a serious matter and all credible allegations are immediately investigated. Unfortunately, a number of organizations with clear political agendas continue to release biased, inaccurate and incomplete reports based on scant, if any, evidence.

“As repeatedly stated, NSO does not operate the technology, and [is] not privy to the collected data,” it added. “The company does not and cannot know who the targets of the customers are.”

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