Hungary Official Admits Government Used Spyware to Target Journalists, Businesspeople

A Hungarian senior official acknowledged that the government used powerful spyware to spy on businesspeople, journalists and even an opposition politician, the Associated Press reported.

Lajos Kosa confirmed to journalists that the Interior Ministry of Hungary had purchased the military-grade spyware Pegasus. Kosa is the chairman of parliament's Committee on Defense and Law Enforcement.

The system is produced by NSO Group, which is based in Israel. It marks the first time a government official from Hungary admitted that they had used malware, something that has been in the news since an investigation from July of 2021 revealed that Pegasus was used in Hungary.

Those targeted included at least 10 lawyers, an undisclosed amount of journalists, and a politician.

Kosa insisted there was no illegal activity involved in the use of the Pegasus software. He said officials had received permission from courts or the Ministry of Justice before use.

The usage of Pegasus against journalists comes after accusations from the European Union that right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been increasingly taking control of Hungary's media. His critics say that he is bringing the country into "increasingly autocratic rule," according to AP.

The Biden administration said it will place export limits on NSO Group.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Lajos Kosa
Lajos Kosa, chairman of parliament's Committee on Defense and Law Enforcement, revealed to the media that the Interior Ministry of Hungary used the military-grade spyware Pegasus to spy on businesspeople, journalists and even an opposition politician. Above, Kosa (left) with Antal Rogan in 2012. Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images

Malware infiltrates phones to collect personal and location data and can surreptitiously control the phone's microphones and cameras.

Subsequent investigations by Hungarian investigative journalism outlet Direkt36 have suggested that at least two publishers of government-critical media, as well as a former state secretary, were also targeted with the software.

But opposition lawmakers have demanded an inquiry into the government's use of Pegasus, and complained that the findings of two special committee sessions examining the case—including Thursday's meeting of the Committee on Defense and Law Enforcement—had been classified by the governing party until 2050.

In October, a spokeswoman for an EU fact-finding delegation to Hungary told journalists that the government's refusal to confirm or deny whether it was responsible for the spying was "of great concern for the European Parliament," but that there was "a clear sign that it was done by the government itself."

But Kosa told journalists on Thursday that he saw no reason to object to the government's use of Pegasus. According to Hungarian state news agency MTI, he argued that "tech giants conduct much wider surveillance" on their users than the Hungarian government had.

NSO Group
Pegasus, the spyware that the Hungarian government admits it used to spy on businesspeople, journalists and an opposition politician, is produced by NSO Group, which is based in Israel. Above, NSO's headquarters in Sapir, Israel. AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner