Indian opposition leaders say Apple has warned them of state-sponsored iPhone attacks

Indian opposition leaders say Apple has warned them of state-sponsored iPhone attacks

Apple has warned over a half dozen Indian politicians, other members of political parties and journalists of their iPhones being targets of state-sponsored attacks, these people said Tuesday, in a remarkable turn of events and charges just months before the general elections in the South Asian nation.

Shashi Tharoor of the opposition Congress party; Mahua Moitra, a national lawmaker with All India Trinamool Congress; Priyanka Chaturvedi of Shiv Sena, a party that enjoys considerable political clout across Maharashtra; Asaduddin Owaisi, national president of the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Raghav Chadha of AAP, a party that rose from an anti-corruption movement a decade ago before winning election in the national capital territory; Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India; and Congress leader and spokesperson Pawan Khera said they had received an alert from Apple, warning them that their iPhones had been under attack.

Journalists Siddharth Varadarajan and Sriram Karri and think-tank ORF India President Samir Saran also tweeted Tuesday that they had received the same warning from Apple.

New Delhi has been accused of deploying the Pegasus spyware on activists for years. Financial Times reported in March that India was seeking new spyware contracts.

Apar Gupta, a senior privacy activist, said the timing of these notifications was alarming. “Public cynicism or judicial stupor should not preclude us from demanding an independent, transparent technical analysis and clear disclosures from the Government of India regarding its spyware purchases and deployments. This issue strikes at the heart of Indian democracy,” he wrote in a tweet.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Apple believes you are being targeted by state-sponsored attackers who are trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with your Apple ID,” the alleged Apple alert says. “These attackers are likely targeting you individually because of who you are or what you do. If your device is compromised by a state-sponsored attacker, they may be able to remotely access your sensitive data, communications, or even the camera and microphone.”

Apple has previously recommended users receiving this alert to activate the Lockdown mode, a security measure unveiled in 2022, aimed at safeguarding individuals like journalists, politicians, attorneys, and human rights advocates from state-sponsored spyware intrusions.

This mode curtails link previews in messages, minimizes Safari functionality by turning off features like just-in-time (JIT) compilers to halt malicious JavaScript execution, restricts users from opening attachments, and disables receipt of FaceTime calls from unfamiliar contacts.

More to follow.

Ivan Mehta contributed to this report.

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