New York, September 15, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Friday issued an urgent call for authorities to investigate allegations that journalists working in Latvia were targeted by state-sponsored hackers.
CPJ’s call follows reports on Thursday—a day after the disclosure that the phone of exiled Russian journalist Galina Timchenko had been infected by Pegasus spyware—that three Latvia-based journalists said Apple had notified them that their phone could have been targeted by hacker attacks.
The three were named as Latvian journalist Evgeniy Pavlov and exiled Russian journalists Evgeniy Erlich and Maria Epifanova.
“The growing reports of possible hacker attacks against at least three independent journalists based in Latvia are all the more worrying given the recent revelation that exiled Russian journalist Galina Timchenko’s phone was infected with Pegasus spyware,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Latvian authorities must conduct a swift and transparent investigation into these allegations and ensure the digital and physical safety of journalists who are temporarily or permanently residing in the country.”
On Wednesday, September 13, an investigation released by rights group Access Now and research organization Citizen Lab revealed that the phone of Timchenko, the head of independent Russian-language news website Meduza, who has lived in Latvia since 2014, was infected by Pegasus, a form of zero-click spyware produced by the Israeli company NSO Group, while she was in Germany in February.
Apple had warned Timchenko in June that her device may have been targeted with state-sponsored spyware. The Access Now/Citizen Lab investigation reported that the attack could have come from Russia, one of its allies, or a European Union state.
Apple sent email and text alerts to Erlich’s iPhone while he was in Poland, traveling by car from Latvia to Germany on August 29, warning that “state-sponsored attackers” might be targeting his device, the journalist told CPJ via messaging app.
Erlich is the former chief editor of a regional program for Current Time TV, and an independent producer with Votvot, an on-demand Russian language streaming platform, who moved to Latvia in 2014. Current Time TV and Votvot are affiliated with the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
On August 29, Apple warned Epifanova, who moved to Latvia in 2016, that her iPhone may have been hacked by “state-sponsored hackers.” On September 3, the Telegram channel warned her that someone had logged into her account from a device in Egypt, Novaya Gazeta Europe reported.
Epifanova is the CEO of independent news outlet Novaya Gazeta Europe and publisher of Novaya Gazeta project Novaya Gazeta Baltija, which covers Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.
Novaya Gazeta Europe is a Latvia-based newspaper launched in April 2022 by journalists who previously worked at the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Russian authorities designated Novaya Gazeta Europe as an “undesirable” organization in June, banning the outlet from operating on Russian territory.
Also, on August 29, Apple emailed Latvian journalist Evgeniy Pavlov that his phone might have been hacked by “state-sponsored hackers.”
Pavlov is a correspondent with Novaya Gazeta Baltija and reports for Current Time TV and the Russian-language Latvia-based web portal rus.nra.lv.
Epifanova and Pavlov were in Latvia when they received the warnings; they turned to Access Now on Thursday to have their devices checked for spyware infection, Ekaterina Glikman, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta Europe, told CPJ via a messaging app.
An unnamed representative of the Latvian State Security Service told CPJ via email that the service does not have any information relating to “the possible attack against Galina Timchenko’s smartphone,” adding that the Latvian State Police investigates “cases related to the violation of the confidentiality of correspondence and information transmitted over electronic communication networks.”
CPJ’s emails to the Latvian State Police and the German Federal Ministry of the Interior received no responses.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include comments from the Latvian State Security Service.