Spy vs spy: Spyware found at Hungarian secret service

Filed Under: Law & order, Malware

Nemzetbiztonsági Hivatal logo

One of Hungary's biggest daily newspapers is today reporting a fascinating story that has emerged from the country.

According to Népszabadság, the police force have charged a man in connection with the discovery of spyware at the offices of Hungary's national security office. The Nemzetbiztonsági Hivatal (NBH) are Hungary's equivalent to the UK's MI5, having a remit to use surveillance techniques to spy on suspected criminal activity in the country.

The NBH's investigation into who might have installed the spyware started eight months ago, and has lead them to the offices of UD Vagyonvédelmi, a private security firm which employs many people who used to work in the security services.

János Tóth, the boss of UD, is at the centre of a political storm in Hungary after being linked to a claim by Ibolya Dávid, the female leader of the MDF political party, that she was sent a recording of Tóth and powerful businessman Sándort Csányi. Dávid claims that the audio CD she has acquired reveals that the men were discussing spying on her.

Accusations have been made that UD may have planted the spyware at the national security office because they were convinced they were under surveillance from the authorities, and wanted to find out more.

Prosecutors, who have refused to name the man who has been charged, say that the investigation may take some months, as it will involve questioning employees of UD, many of whom are trained experts in security having previously worked for the secret service. There is no indication as to what data might have been stolen from the national security office in Budapest.

Legal representatives of UD have complained that the police search of the company's premises was illegal and inappropriate, and claim that it is not János Tóth in the recording.

If this story is true, it wouldn't be the first time that a country's secret service has had a close encounter with spyware. For instance, earlier this year I blogged about how the BND - Germany's foreign intelligence service - was alleged to have been discovered using spyware to monitor the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Afghanistan.

As more and more countries, companies and individuals recognise that computer software gives them the ability to spy on their enemies, competitors and rivals we are bound to see an escalating number of cases of this kind of spyware attack.

Hat-tip: Thanks to Gabor in our testing department for helping me understand the Hungarian news report.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.