Govt, Apple set up tech team to probe allegations of phone hacking

Apple had sent warning messages to many senior opposition leaders and journalists that their iPhones may be targeted for ‘state-sponsored attacks’

Apple phone hacking

New Delhi: A day after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi hit out at the government for its alleged bid to snoop the opposition leaders, the Central government has set up technical teams in association with those from the Apple to examine the charges.

Citing ‘alerts’ sent by the apple on their iPhones, many opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mahua Moitra and many other senior leaders alleged that the government was trying to hack their iPhones. The Apple had sent messages to several opposition politicians and journalists, warning that their iPhones may have been targeted for “state-sponsored attacks”.

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A senior officer of the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) said that tech experts from Apple have consented to be the part of team to investigate the allegations. “Technical teams to look into the issue have been assembled by both sides. Apple is cooperating, they have accepted the communication we have sent them on the matter,” the official said.

“The Cert-In (Indian computer emergency response team) had already flagged about some vulnerability issue with iPhones earlier. The team will investigate it and fix the issues before it is taken at a higher level,” the officer said.

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However, there was no official quote on the issues either from Apple or the MeitY till the filing of this report. The government said on Wednesday it will investigate the notifications sent by Apple to several users, including opposition members of Parliament, claiming state sponsored attackers were potentially attempting to compromise their iPhones using their Apple email ID.

On Tuesday, the Central government had asked Apple to participate in the investigation and provide information that triggered the ‘alerts’ to a few iPhone users. Telecom and IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the government is very concerned and will get to the bottom of the issue. “We will make sure that we go to the depth of the matter,” he had said.

Apple has also claimed that Apple IDs are securely encrypted on devices, making it extremely difficult to access or identify them without the user’s explicit permission. This encryption safeguards the user’s Apple ID and ensures that it remains private and protected.

Minister of state for electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar in a post on X stated that he expected Apple to clarify on several counts, including whether its devices were secure since they have claimed that their products were designed for privacy and why the ‘threat notifications’ were sent to people in over 150 countries.

Apple has spent a huge sum on security of its iPhone devices particularly after the Pegasus issue. The tech giant said in a statement on Tuesday that it did not attribute the threat notification 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 behaviour to evade detection in the future,” the Cupertino, California-headquartered company said.

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