'Phone Hacking' Row: Indian IT Minister Accuses Oppn of Doing 'Destructive Politics'; Apple Issues Statement
Expressing “concerns” over the snooping claims made by some opposition leaders, the central government on Tuesday ordered an investigation and asked tech giant Apple to join the investigation with real, accurate information on the “alleged state-sponsored attacks”.
Meanwhile, Apple issued a statement saying that it does not attribute the threat notifications to any specific state-sponsored attacker. This came as several Opposition MPs claimed to have received messages from Apple warning them of “state-sponsored attackers trying to remotely compromise” their iPhones.
Targeted By State-sponsored Attackers: Oppn
MPs including including Congress’ Shashi Tharoor, Trinamool Congress’ Mahua Moitra, and Aam Aadmi Party MP Raghav Chadha shared the screenshot of the message received on their phones, which read “Apple believes you are being targeted by state-sponsored attackers who are trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with your Apple ID.”
“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. While it’s possible this is a false alarm, please take this warning seriously,” the message read further.
Opposition leaders TMC’s Mahua Moitra, Shiv Sena’s (UBT) Priyanka Chaturvedi and Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Pawan Khera say they have received warnings from their phone manufacturer about “state-sponsored attackers trying to compromise their phone” pic.twitter.com/ecQcIenHOT— ANI (@ANI) October 31, 2023
Several other leaders, including CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Shiv Sena’s (UBT) Priyanka Chaturvedi, Congress leaders Pawan Khera, Rahul Gandhi, KC Venugopal, Supriya Shinatre, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi also claimed to have received the warning message.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi claimed that people in his office, several party and other opposition leaders have been sent a warning by Apple of state-sponsored attackers targeting their phone, and alleged that as soon as the Adani issue is touched, probe agencies and snooping are deployed. He also alleged that the government was indulging in “distraction politics” on the Adani issue.
During a press conference, Gandhi also showed a copy of the warning e-mail received by several opposition leaders from Apple phone manufacturer about “state-sponsored attackers trying to compromise” their phone.
Alert Received In 150 Countries
Apple’s statement suggests that since the time they started sending threat notifications, accounts in 150 countries have received the same. Apple categorically has not said whether these notifications across the world are being sent at the same time as users in India.
What Apple Said In The Statement
After the Opposition’s snooping charges, the iPhone manufacture issued a statement saying, “Apple does not attribute the threat notifications to any specific state-sponsored attacker.”
“State-sponsored attackers are very well-funded and sophisticated, and their attacks evolve over time. Detecting such attacks relies on threat intelligence signals that are often imperfect and incomplete. It’s possible that some Apple threat notifications may be false alarms, or that some attacks are not detected. We are unable to provide information about what causes us to issue threat notifications, as that may help state-sponsored attackers adapt their behavior to evade detection,” it added.
Govt Orders Probe, Says Apple’s Advisory in 150 Countries
Speaking on the issue, Union Minister for Communications, Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw said, “The government is concerned about this issue and it will go to the bottom of it. There are some compulsive critics in the country. These people can’t see the development of the country because when their family was in power they only thought about themselves. Apple has issued this advisory in 150 countries…”
“From the mail sent by from Apple, it can be understood that they have no clear information, they have sent alerts on the basis of an estimate. This is vague. Apple has released a clarification that the allegations by compulsive critics are not true. Such advisories have been sent to people in 150 countries,” he said.
#WATCH | On multiple opposition leaders allege ‘hacking’ of their Apple devices, Union Minister for Communications, Electronics & IT Ashwini Vaishnaw says “From the mail sent by from Apple, it can be understood that they have no clear information, they have sent alerts on the… pic.twitter.com/hSxOJicbwV— ANI (@ANI) October 31, 2023
Slamming the opposition leader, the Union Minister said whenever these compulsive critics do not have any major issue, the only thing they say is surveillance.
The people who cannot see the growth of the country are doing destructive politics, he said.
“They tried this a few years back as well, we conducted a proper investigation, and the matter was supervised by the judiciary also but nothing came out of that including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who said that her two children’s phones were hacked but nothing of that sort happened. This is a falsehood that some compulsive critics are trying to spread…,” he said.
File An FIR: BJP To Oppn MPs
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has dismissed the Opposition’s snooping changes and said it is for Apple to clarify the alerts it has sent to several people, including opposition leaders, about “state-sponsored attackers trying to remotely compromise” their iPhones.
Party leader and former Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters that instead of levelling allegations against the government, these leaders should take up the matter with Apple and file FIRs. He, however, cited his experience to claim that no telephone company does something like this and goes to CERT-In, an emergency response team, first to look into the matter.
Asked about the opposition leaders’ charge, Prasad shot back, “It is for Apple to clarify. They should file an FIR if they have any problem. Who is stopping them?”
He recalled the controversy over the alleged use of Pegasus malware to hack into the phones of certain people, including opposition leaders, and said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had refused to deposit his iPhone before a committee appointed by the Supreme Court to look into the matter.