Apple warns Indian opposition figures over state-sponsored hacking attempts

Jason Macuray
Several political opposition figures in India received notifications from Apple on Tuesday warning that their phones may be “targeted by state-sponsored attackers.” Mahua Moitra, a member of the Lok Sabha, the lower house in the Parliament of India — a vocal critic of industrialist Gautam Adani’s

Several political opposition figures in India received notifications from Apple on Tuesday warning that their phones may be “targeted by state-sponsored attackers.”

Mahua Moitra, a member of the Lok Sabha, the lower house in the Parliament of India — a vocal critic of industrialist Gautam Adani’s links to prime minister Narendra Modi, for which she is being investigated by a parliamentary ethics committee — shared her alert on social media, blaming the Ministry of Home Affairs for the attempts to hack her phone.

Shashi Tharoor, another opposition MP in the Lok Sabha, also received an alert from Apple that encouraged its recipient to ensure his iPhone was updated to the latest software version and to enable Lockdown Mode, the feature designed to protect users from sophisticated spyware.

“We are unable to provide more information about what caused us to send you this notification, as that may help state-sponsored attackers adapt their behavior to evade detection in the future,” the alert states.

Other opposition figures targeted include Rahul Gandhi — who previously had been disqualified as an MP after being convicted of defaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surname — alongside Priyanka Chaturvedi and Raghav Chadha, as well as reportedly several staffers among parties who oppose India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Chadha said: “I use my smartphone to perform my parliamentary duties — engage with members of my constituency, address requests and provide assistance. I also use it to question the dictatorial practices of the Central Government.

“This snooping is happening as we are merely months away from a General Election. It must also be placed within the broader attacks on the opposition who are facing relentless repression by investigatory agencies, politically motivated criminal cases and incarceration.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs did not respond to Recorded Future News when asked about Moitra’s allegation.

India Today, citing anonymous government sources, claimed the alerts from Apple were triggered by an “algorithm malfunction” and said a government statement would be issued soon.

Apple did not respond to confirm or dispute the news site’s claim when contacted by Recorded Future News. In a statement reported by Indian media, the tech company said: “Apple does not attribute the threat notifications to any specific state-sponsored attacker.”

Although the Indian government has not issued a formal statement, the BJP told the Economic Times that allegations the government was behind the attacks were “baseless and false.”

Amit Malviya, the head of information and technology for India’s ruling BJP party, dismissed the complaints in his own social media post: “Usual suspects raising a storm over ‘state sponsored’ attack and pretending to be martyrs is all good… But this hullabaloo, in all probability, like in the past, will end up as damp squib!”

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Alexander Martin is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.

 

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