Austria's Connection to Pegasus Spyware

PeopleOther ♦ Published: November 10, 2022; 16:58 ♦ (Vindobona)

Governments of EU member states have used spyware against their citizens for political purposes, according to a draft report by the European Parliament's Committee of Inquiry (PEGA) published today in Brussels. European Union member states are widely using the controversial Pegasus spy software. Corresponding indications exist for Poland, Hungary, Greece, Cyprus and Spain, it said. There are also links to Austria.

Former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has close ties to the founder of the NSO Group that produced the Spyware called Pegasus. / Picture: © Bundeskanzleramt (BKA) / Dragan Tatic

Specifically, the report on Austria says former Interior Minister and current Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) responded in writing to questions from the National Council that Austria is not a customer of NSO, the Israeli technology company that makes the Pegasus spyware software.

"But former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has close ties to the founder of the NSO Group, and DSIRF (Decision Supporting Information Research and Forensic), a major spyware provider, is based in Austria," the draft report states. DSIRF and high-ranking members of the company also had close ties to Russia and the Kremlin, according to the draft.

After Microsoft security experts accused DSIRF of being behind a series of digital intrusions into banks, law firms and strategic consulting firms in at least three countries, Austria's State Security Service looked into the allegations, with no evidence of the spyware's use, according to ORF.

DSIRF developed the spyware, called "Subzero," which uses zero-day exploits to access sensitive information such as passwords or login credentials, Microsoft said in July, according to ORF.

The company also hit out at the media for its ties to German payment service provider Wirecard, according to a DiePresse article from October this year. DSIRF had denied working with Wirecard or Russia.

In October, ex-Chancellor Kurz disclosed, according to ORF, that he had founded a cybersecurity company called Dream Security with the former head of NSO Group, Shalev Hulio. The EU Parliament committee noted in its draft report that while Hulio had stepped down as CEO of NSO Group, Dream Security was closely linked to NSO Group through various individuals.

According to ORF, Kurz stressed to Ö1-Mittagsjournal that he had "founded a company that offers cyber security for critical infrastructure, for example, to protect hospitals, water and energy supplies." He considers that "extremely essential at a time when cyberattacks are becoming more and more common," the ex-chancellor said.

His business partner Shalev Hulio has since left NSO, Kurz said, according to ORF. In any case, the company he founded "exclusively offers cybersecurity solutions," according to ORF, and he very much welcomes "people who have gained experience in the offense sector now using that experience to protect critical infrastructure."

European Parliament