A leading Russian journalist has had her phone compromised using Israeli spyware, researchers said Wednesday, the latest sign that phone hacking tools are being used to spy on media workers and opposition figures worldwide.
A joint investigation by Canadian internet watchdog Citizen Lab and digital rights group Access Now found that the phone of Galina Timchenko had been infected using spyware built by the Israeli company NSO Group. The infection began on or around Feb. 10, 2023, the researchers said. They did not identify who would have deployed it.
Timchenko – the co-founder and publisher of independent Russian news outlet Meduza – was in Berlin at the time of the hack, the researchers said.
Media defense groups condemned the alleged surveillance, with the Committee to Protect Journalists saying “journalists and their sources are not free and safe if they are spied on.” Timchenko was quoted in a story published by Meduza on Wednesday as saying the hacking left her feeling “like I’d been stripped naked in the town square.”
In an email, NSO said it “always investigates credible allegations of misuse.” The company did not say whether an investigation had been opened in this case, or respond when asked for an example of any past investigation.
Researchers, lawmakers and journalists have repeatedly accused NSO of helping governments spy on political opponents and undermine independent reporting. In 2021, the company was blacklisted by the U.S. government over human rights concerns.
Timchenko is a particularly high profile alleged victim. One of the pillars of Russia’s independent media scene, she set up Meduza in Latvia after being fired as the editor of one of Russia’s most popular news websites for falling foul of the authorities. The outlet has since become a prominent source of news amid Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.