By George Georgiopoulos
ATHENS (Reuters) - A Greek prosecutor said on Thursday she had begun an investigation into an allegation by a journalist that his smartphone had been infected by surveillance software in an operation by the country's intelligence service.
A spokesman for the EYP intelligence service told Reuters it had no comment on Greek media reports detailing the assertion by Thanasis Koukakis, 43, a financial journalist who works for CNN Greece and has done investigative reporting on financial crimes.
The allegation comes as the European Union (EU) is beginning to follow the United States in taking a harder look at spyware merchants and the use of powerful surveillance software.
"A preliminary investigation has begun on the matter," the prosecutor, who declined to be identified, told Reuters, adding the probe would seek to determine whether there had been a breach of the country's telecommunications privacy legislation.
Koukakis told Reuters he believed his phone had been infected by Predator spyware developed by Cytrox, a Europe-based surveillance company. Cytrox Predator spyware is sold in Greece by Intellexa, which did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Koukakis, who first suspected EYP was listening to his calls in July 2020, asked independent telecommunications privacy authority ADAE to determine whether a privacy breach had taken place and if so whether it had been ordered by a prosecutor.
"I could not believe I was being wiretapped," Koukakis told Reuters.
Koukakis said the authority responded in July 2021, saying it had not found anything violating the law on the confidentiality of communications.
ADAE's reply came four months after the government passed an amendment to the privacy law barring it from informing individuals subject to eavesdropping for national security reasons. The amendment took effect retroactively.
ADAE had no immediate response. The legal counsel for ADAE, Katerina Papanicolaou, told Reuters she was not authorised to comment on the matter.
After his phone "started acting strangely" in what appeared to be a second spying attempt, Koukakis said he asked for help from Toronto University's Citizen Lab, which tracks the spyware industry. Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak confirmed the Lab analysed Koukakis's phone and found traces of Predator spyware.
"We analyzed it and confirmed a Cytrox infection," he told Reuters. "We identified the SMS on the phone used to target him ... it is the first Greek case we have been able to confirm."
Commenting on the reported bugging of Koukasis' phone, government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou told reporters this week Greek authorities do not use the spyware allegedly involved in the hacking and do not do business with companies selling it.
The EU considers the use of spyware against journalists unacceptable.
Koukakis' case will be investigated by EU lawmakers tracking the spread of espionage software in Europe, said Sophie in't Veld, a Dutch member of the European parliament. The Greek case "would very much fall within the scope of our inquiry," she said.
(Reporting by George Georgiopoulos in Athens; Additional reporting by Raphael Satter in Washington, Editing by William Maclean)