The iPhone of a Russian journalist was infected with the Pegasus spyware

Pierluigi Paganini September 14, 2023

The iPhone of a prominent Russian journalist, who is at odds with Moscow, was infected with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.

The iPhone of the Russian journalist Galina Timchenko was compromised with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. A joint investigation conducted by Access Now and the Citizen Lab revealed that the journalist, who is at odds with the Russian government, was infected with the surveillance software.

Timchenko is co-founder, CEO, and publisher of Meduza, a Russian independent media outlet exiled in Europe. The Kremlin has labeled the media outlet as “an undesirable organization.” Timchenko is the recipient of the Committee To Protect Journalists Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award.

The investigation started on June 22, 2023, after Timchenko received a notification from Apple that state-sponsored attackers may be targeting her iPhone. Then the Meduza’s Chief Technology Officer contacted Access Now to investigate the alleged infection of the device. The researchers from Access Now and Citizen Lab analyzed the device and confirmed the Pegasus spyware infection.

The initial compromise of the device took place on or around February 10, 2023, according to the experts the infection could have lasted from days up to weeks. The threat actors used a zero-click exploit, likely the PWNYOURHOME. The exploit first targets the HomeKit process, then the iMessage service.

“During the infection her device was localized to the GMT+1 timezone, and she reports being in Berlin, Germany. The day following the infection she was scheduled to attend a private meeting with other heads of Russian independent media exiled in Europe to discuss how to manage threats and censorship by Putin’s regime.” reported Citizen Lab.

The case is the first Pegasus spyware infection of an iPhone belonging to a potential target of the Russian Government.

However, there is no public evidence that the Russian government is a client of the Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group.

“NSO has long said it sells licenses for Pegasus only to governments for legitimate law enforcement purposes. A person familiar with NSO operations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter, said the Russian government is not a client.” reported The Washington Post.

“Whether during war or peace, surveillance of journalists and independent media by intrusive spyware like Pegasus is prohibited under E.U law, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law.” states Access Now. “Sophisticated spyware like Pegasus, which bypasses encryption and takes full control of the victim’s phone, including access to photos, messages, and contacts, as well as the phone’s camera and microphone, represents an existential threat to journalists and media freedom globally.”

Recently Apple addressed two zero-day vulnerabilities in its iOS that have been used to install the Pegasus spyware on target devices.

Follow me on Twitter: @securityaffairs and Facebook and Mastodon

Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, NSO)

you might also like

leave a comment