Szabolcs Panyi’s phone shows traces of several Pegasus attacks between April and December of 2019. His phone was compromised through an iMessage (iPhone) vulnerability that used iMessage lookups to execute malicious processes. Amnesty International’s Security Lab, in partnership with Forbidden Stories, confirmed the infection through a forensic analysis of his phone.
Who is he?
Szabolcs Panyi is an investigative reporter for Direkt36, where he covers national security and defense. He received a Fulbright scholarship to the United States and his work was shortlisted for the 2018 and 2021 European Press Prize.
Panyi’s reporting has shed light on Russia’s political, economic and defense interests in Hungary, as well as the evolving relationship between President Viktor Orbán and former US President Donald Trump. In 2019, Panyi and his colleague Andras Szabo published several investigations into the relocation of the formerly-Soviet International Investment Bank (IIB), a shadowy Russian-led bank to Budapest.
Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International were able to confirm through a forensic analysis that Panyi’s colleague and coauthor András Szabó’s phone was also infected with Pegasus in 2019. Panyi’s targeting continued through the end of 2019. During this time, Panyi worked on a follow up story about two Russian arms dealers who were arrested in Budapest as part of a US DEA sting operation. In September 2019, Panyi reported on how these two arms dealers were – to the dismay of the US authorities – extradited to Russia. Panyi told Forbidden Stories that he believes he may have been targeted because of his sources in intelligence. “Sometimes journalists have better sources, better information than they do,” he said.
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“Hungary is a democratic state governed by the rule of law, and as such, when it comes to any individual it has always acted and continues to act in accordance with the law in force,” a spokesperson for the International Communication Office wrote in response to detailed questions sent by Forbidden Stories and its partners. NSO Group did not answer Forbidden Stories’ questions on specific targets but said it “will continue to investigate all credible claims of misuse and take appropriate action based on the results of these investigations.”