On July 26, 2022, the leader of PASOK-KINAL, Nikos Androulakis filed a lawsuit with Greece’s Supreme Court to compel the authorities to investigate the attempted Predator hack. The targeting of the political leader was discovered only because he is an elected representative to the European Parliament, whose digital security service (CERT-EU) were conducting checks on MEPs’ phones.
Mr Androulakis, upon filing his lawsuit, remarked that discovering who was behind the attempted hack was his ‘democratic duty’.
Predator is a powerful surveillance tool, allowing its operator full and permanent access to the target device. It enables the extraction of important information such as passcodes, files, photos, contacts and web browsing history, and can take screenshots. The operator can also activate the device’s microphone and camera, making it possible to monitor any activity through or near the device, such as conversations taking place in the same room as the device.
In the case of Mr. Androulakis, the hack attempt came via a message to his mobile phone on September 21, 2021. “Let’s look at this seriously friend, there’s something to gain,” the text said in Greek, followed by a malicious link to a fake website, blogspot.edolio5.com, which is a copy of the genuine website edolio5.blogspot.com, which operates as usual.
In Greece no legislative framework has been passed that provides for the use of spyware software such as Predator. Furthermore, the basic law governing the operation of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) does not provide for the use of such software (Law 3649/2008 – Government Gazette 39/Α’/3.3.2008). Therefore, the targeting and hacking of victims through Predator or any other similar spyware in Greece is completely illegal, whether done by the state authorities or by a private actor, and is in violation of Article 19 of the Constitution, which enshrines the absolute inviolability of communications.
The illegal targeting of Nikos Androulakis follows the case of journalist Thanasis Koukakis. According to an inside story report, in the summer of 2021 the journalist’s mobile phone was hacked by Predator, with a forensic analysis by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab finding that Koukakis’ phone was infected by the software during the period between July 12 to September 24, 2021. According to a report by Reporters United, the NIS were also monitoring the journalist in the summer of 2020, from June 1 to August 12. Koukakis has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Greek government has denied any involvement with the use of Predator or any other malware, however they have yet to discover who is using Predator in Greece.
Mounting evidence of illegal surveillance raises questions not only about the use of malicious software in Greece, but also about the modus operandi of the National Intelligence Service, for which the prime minister is institutionally responsible. Following his victory in the 2019 elections Kyriakos Mitsotakis placed the agency under his direct control (Official Gazette: Issue Α’/119/8.7.2019).
The use of illegal surveillance software to monitor politicians and journalists raises issues not only for the rule of law, but also for the freedom of the press and essential democratic values.
Although Article 19 of the Constitution enshrines the absolute inviolability of the privacy of communications, the attempted hack of Nikos Androulakis is yet more evidence of the use of the illegal Predator software in Greece, this time targeting a high ranking politician of the opposition.
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