Polish senators question cyber experts in hacking inquiry

Jan 17, 2022, 9:57 AM | Updated: Jan 18, 2022, 2:28 pm
A Polish Senate commission heard the testimony of two cybersecurity experts, John Scott-Railton and...

A Polish Senate commission heard the testimony of two cybersecurity experts, John Scott-Railton and Bill Marczak, senior researchers with the Citizen Lab, a research group based at the University of Toronto, in Warsaw, Poland, on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. The researchers confirmed last month that three Polish critics of the right-wing government were hacked aggressively with Pegasus, spyware produced by Israel's NSO Group. The Senate commission seeks to shed more light on the hacking, which has shocked many in Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Polish Senate commission opened an investigation into the use of powerful spyware against government critics by hearing testimony Monday from cybersecurity experts, who compared targeting of opposition figures under the right-wing government to methods used by the Kremlin against critics in Russia.

John Scott-Railton and Bill Marczak, senior researchers with the Citizen Lab, a research group based at the University of Toronto, told the seven-member committee they were able to confirm that data was stolen from the phone of a Polish senator, Krzysztof Brejza. That came on top of their findings in late December that Brejza and two others — a Polish lawyer and a prosecutor — were hacked aggressively with Pegasus, spyware produced by Israel’s NSO Group.

The revelations have shocked many Poles because Pegasus is a tool meant to be used by governments to fight terrorists and other dangerous criminals. It gives its operators complete access to a mobile device, allowing them to extract passwords, photos, messages, contacts and browsing history and activate the microphone and camera for real-time eavesdropping.

Many view it as a human rights violation to use it against domestic opponents who criticize the government but pose no danger to society.

In Brejza’s case, his phone was hacked multiple times in 2019, mostly when he was running the opposition’s parliamentary election campaign. Messages from his phone were doctored and used in a smear campaign against him in the heat of the race, which the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party narrowly won.

After evasions and denials by government officials, Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski acknowledged last week that Poland had acquired Pegasus, describing it as an important tool against criminals, but denying it was used against the opposition.

Polish media have identified the operator as Poland’s Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, a special service created to combat corruption in public life that is under the control of the ruling party.

In the wake of revelations about the spying, the families of Brejza and Roman Giertych, the lawyer who was hacked, have faced further pressure. After Brejza filed a civil suit against Kaczynski for suggesting he was hacked due to suspicions of wrongdoing, Brejza’s father, a mayor, was summoned as a suspect in an unrelated case for questioning by prosecutors.

False bomb threats were also sent last week to hospitals and police stations from the phones of one of Giertych’s daughters and Brejza’s wife, who is also his lawyer.

“It’s a kind of threat against the family,” Giertych told The Associated Press on Monday, saying it reminds him of old communist methods.

Speaking by video link, the two experts also confirmed to the committee that an operator first started registering the Pegasus infrastructure in November 2017, only weeks after Polish media established that the contract with the Polish government was finalized.

The Law and Justice party has rejected calls by the opposition for an investigation into the hacking in the lower house of parliament, or Sejm.

In reaction, the Senate, where the opposition has a small majority, approved forming a committee to investigate evidence that the three government critics were hacked with the spyware. Sen. Marcin Bosacki, the committee’s chairman, said the step was needed “due to the deepest concern for our democracy and the future of the Polish state.”

Bosacki said one of the probe’s aims will be to determine whether the hacking of Brejza’s phone altered the outcome of the 2019 election, arguing that a state in which secret services have an influence on the election process ceases to be a democracy.

Still, only the Sejm can launch an inquiry with full investigative powers, including calling witnesses. The Senate can invite witnesses but not require them to appear. Law and Justice senators voted against establishing the senate committee and refused to accept seats on it.

Bosacki concluded Monday’s two-hour questioning of the two witnesses by saying it was a good beginning in their attempt to clarify the “aggressive” use of Pegasus technology against a senator and two others.

But a third witness who was scheduled to testify — a Polish professor and cybersecurity expert — canceled two hours before the hearing, Bosacki said, “due to talks with his superiors, who strongly advised him not to do so.”


Monika Scislowska contributed to this report from Warsaw.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


A vendor sells refrigerator magnets showing a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin, on main ...
Associated Press

In pro-Putin Serbia, liberal-minded Russians seek a home

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — At a central square in Serbia’s capital of Belgrade, dozens of Russians gathered recently to denounce President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, holding up photos of political prisoners from their homeland. Across the plaza, a billboard touts the Russian propaganda outlet RT, which has launched an online news portal in the […]
1 hour ago
Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell, left, gestures as he speaks to China's Minister of Commerce,...
Associated Press

China-Australia trade ministers hold 1st meeting since 2019

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian and Chinese trade ministers held their first bilateral meeting in three years Monday as Australia urges China to lift official and unofficial barriers that are costing exporters 20 billion Australian dollars ($14 billion) a year. China has thawed its diplomatic freeze on Australia since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s center-left Labor […]
1 hour ago
The damaged structure is seen at the scene of a fire at the Bright Moon Buddhist Temple in Springva...
Associated Press

Fire extensively damages Buddhist temple in Australian city

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A Buddhist temple has been extensively damaged by fire in the Australian city of Melbourne. About 80 firefighters fought the blaze at the Bright Moon Buddhist Temple for more than two hours before it was brought under control late Sunday. Spot fires were still being put out Monday. There were no […]
1 hour ago
A computer screen displays a notice blocking the Wikipedia website through an online news site in I...
Associated Press

Pakistan blocks Wikipedia, says it hurt Muslim sentiments

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s media regulator said Monday it blocked Wikipedia services in the country for hurting Muslim sentiment by not removing purportedly blasphemous content from the site, a move critics say is a blow to digital rights. Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or its figures can be sentenced to […]
1 hour ago
A currency trader watches monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headqu...
Associated Press

Asian stocks sink after US jobs data fan rate hike fears

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets sank Monday after strong U.S. jobs data fanned fears of more interest rate hikes to cool inflation. Shanghai, Hong Kong and Seoul retreated. Tokyo gained. Oil prices rose. Wall Street wilted Friday after official data showed U.S. employers hired twice as many people in January as the previous month. […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

This Week: Disney earnings, unemployment, consumer sentiment

A look at some of the key business events and economic indicators upcoming this week: Disney reports earnings Entertainment giant Walt Disney Co. will report its latest financial results on Wednesday. Analysts polled by FactSet expect the company to report a drop in profit during its fiscal first quarter following a disappointing round of results […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Polish senators question cyber experts in hacking inquiry