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Two phones of European parliamentarians have shown traces of spyware. The subcommittee focused on security and defense appears to have been targeted by state hackers, but the culprit is unknown.

The discovery was reported by Politico, which warned back in December that the European Parliament’s security level isn’t up to scratch. A routine check on Tuesday proved for the first time since the introduction of routine checks that a phone belonging to a government member had been fitted with spyware. Spokesperson Delphine Colard announced shortly thereafter that another device had shown such traces.

Meanwhile, a general call to check every phone within the EU Subcommittee on Security and Defense (SEDE) is in effect. In an official statement, Colard highlighted that global political tensions call for extra attention being paid to spyware prevention. This isn’t without precedent either inside Brussels. Apple warned the European Commission in 2021 about the infection of smartphones of top European officials with the infamous Pegasus software.

Not only threat from outside

Surveillance attempts from China and Russia are to be expected given the geopolitical situation. For example, the Dutch Ministry of Defense recently discovered that Chinese state hackers had gained limited access to a government network. The damage is said to have been minimal, but shows that a concrete threat exists.

However, the danger of espionage by no means comes only from outside. For example, MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld heavily criticised “four or five” EU member states in late 2022 whose governments had used spyware against political opponents. She said incidents in Spain, Greece, Hungary and Poland, among others, showed that every European citizen should be deeply concerned about such surveillance.

In any case, the discovery shows that merely regular security checks are insufficient. Since April 2023, phones have been routinely checked for spyware, revealing the two breaches first reported this week. However, a successful breach means more action is needed – more preventative measures seem necessary, but it is as yet unclear what they will look like. In addition, several governments repeatedly appear to make eager use of spyware themselves, so political action from some areas will not follow any time soon.

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