Spyware Scandals Are Ripping Through Europe
The ripple effects of the scandal are reaching the heart of the European Union. Over the past 13 months, it has been revealed that spyware had targeted opposition leaders, journalists, lawyers and activists in France, Spain, Hungary, Poland and even staff within the European Commission, the EU’s cabinet-style government, between 2019 and 2021. The bloc has already set up an inquiry into its own use of spyware, but even as the 38-person committee works toward producing a report for early 2023, the number of new scandals is quickly mounting up. What sets the scandal in Greece apart is the company behind the spyware that was used. Until then the surveillance software in every EU scandal could be traced back to one company, the notorious NSO Group. Yet the spyware stalking Koukakis’ phone was made by Cytrox, a company founded in the small European nation of North Macedonia and acquired in 2017 by Tal Dilian — an entrepreneur who achieved notoriety for driving a high-tech surveillance van around the island of Cyprus and showing a Forbes journalist how it could hack into passing people’s phones.
In that interview, Dilian said he had acquired Cytrox and absorbed the company into his intelligence company Intellexa, which is now thought to now be based in Greece. The arrival of Cytrox into Europe’s ongoing scandal shows the problem is bigger than just the NSO Group. The bloc has a thriving spyware industry of its own. As the NSO Group struggles with intense scrutiny and being blacklisted by the US, its less well-known European rivals are jostling to take its clients, researchers say. Over the past two months, Cytrox is not the only local company to generate headlines for hacking devices within the bloc. In June, Google discovered the Italian spyware vendor RCS Lab was targeting smartphones in Italy and Kazakhstan. Alberto Nobili, RCS’ managing director, told WIRED that the company condemns the misuse of its products but declined to comment on whether the cases cited by Google were examples of misuse. “RCS personnel are not exposed, nor participate in any activities conducted by the relevant customers,” he says. More recently, in July, spyware made by Austria’s DSIRF was detected by Microsoft hacking into law firms, banks, and consultancies in Austria, the UK, and Panama.