Russian News Outlet in Latvia Believes European State Behind Phone Hack
Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet based in Latvia, has stated that it believes a European state was responsible for hacking the phone of its CEO, Galina Timchenko. The cyberattack, which occurred in Berlin earlier this year, involved the use of military-grade spyware. The news raises concerns about the possible use of a blacklisted cyberweapon by an EU member state against a journalist.
Timchenko and Ivan Kolpakov, the founder and editor-in-chief of Meduza, believe that new circumstantial evidence points to an EU state as the likely perpetrator behind the hacking. This incident occurred shortly before Timchenko participated in a meeting of exiled Russian journalists. The revelation has led to criticism from a European member of parliament, who compared the surveillance methods used to those once employed by the East German secret police, the Stasi.
The hack was initially discovered when Timchenko received a warning from Apple. Further investigation by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and Access Now confirmed that Timchenko’s phone, which uses a Latvian country code, was hacked by a government user of Pegasus, a sophisticated spyware developed by Israel’s NSO Group. Pegasus has the capability to hack any phone and even turn it into a remote listening device.
While Timchenko initially believed the attack originated in Russia due to past harassment from the Kremlin, researchers at the Citizen Lab and Access Now have stated that they do not believe Russia is a client of NSO. However, they have confirmed that agencies within Latvia, Estonia, and Germany are clients of NSO Group and have access to the spyware.
Timchenko, who has lived in Latvia for nearly a decade, now believes that an EU state may have targeted her in an attempt to gather information from her exchanges with other Russian journalists who have recently left Russia. She referred to the incident as an “expensive pleasure” for any state to have targeted her.
Timchenko and Kolpakov also point to tensions that arose when Meduza publicly defended another independent Russian media group, TV Rain, which was expelled from Latvia after being accused of being a threat to national security. This incident caused a rift between the Latvian majority and Russian-speaking minority in the country.
Meduza published an open letter criticizing the Latvian decision and signed by 300 supporters, highlighting their support for press freedom.