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Apple sent hacking alert, say Opposition leaders. What went wrong?

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Apple sent hacking alert, say Opposition leaders. What went wrong?

Opposition leaders, taking aim at the Centre, claimed they received an alert from Apple saying their phones were being targeted. The BJP has dismissed the allegations as baseless, while the tech giant says it ‘does not attribute notifications to any specific state-sponsored attacker’

FP Explainers Last Updated:October 31, 2023 17:37:02 IST Apple sent hacking alert, say Opposition leaders. What went wrong?

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor was among a slew of Opposition leaders who claimed their phones were hacked. Twitter/@ShashiTharoor

On Tuesday, several Opposition leaders claimed they had received an alert from Apple saying their phones were being targeted.

But what is the Apple alert exactly? What has Apple itself said? And what is the Centre saying?

Let’s take a closer look:

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What do we know about the alert?

Not much.

As per Indian Express, the company has been sending out such automated alerts since late 2021 whenever it thinks suspicious activity like a state-sponsored attack is ongoing.

It has thus far alerted individuals in 150 nations.

It also instructs the individuals on how to keep themselves safe including using ‘Lockdown Mode’ on their iPhones.

As per Tech Crunch, Apple rolled out ‘Lockdown Mode in 2022’.

The company says this was done to protect journalists, politicians, attorneys, and human rights advocates from state-sponsored snooping.

What has the Oppn alleged?

The Opposition leaders including Priyanka Chaturvedi, Mahua Moitra, Shashi Tharoor, Asaduddin Owaisi posted their screenshots on X and slammed the Centre.

Chaturvedi posted on X:

Moitra also posted:

Tharoor posted:

Owaisi posted:

Pawan Khera posted on X:

As per Indian Express, Rahul Gandhi has alleged that the matter has an Adani link.

Rahul claimed “all the people in his office”, AICC’s KC Venugopal, Chhattisgarh deputy chief Minister TS Singh Deo, Pawan Khera, Supriya Shrinate as well as multiple Opposition leaders got the alert from Apple.

“We are not going to get cowed down. We are fighters. We will not step back. Jitni tapping karni hai kar lo… It does not matter to me… If you want my phone… I will give it to you,” Rahul was quoted as saying by Indian Express.

NDTV quoted sources as claiming that three individuals in Rahul Gandhi’s office received threat alerts days prior to the Assembly polls.

CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury also received a similar message, sources in the party said.

What has the Centre said?

IT minister Ashwini Vaishnav wrote on X that the Centre “takes its role of protecting the privacy and security of all citizens very seriously.”

He added:

But NDTV also quoted Vaishnaw as slamming “compulsive critics” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“These (critics) are doing destructive politics… when they don’t have a major issue, raise surveillance. They want to distract people from progress under leadership of PM Modi,” Vaishnaw said.

The outlet also quoted sources as saying that the Centre would reach out to Apple about the use of the term ‘state-sponsored’.

The BJP has dismissed any allegations against the Centre as ‘false and baseless’.

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.

What has Apple said?

Apple in a statement told Tech Crunch that it “does not attribute 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 behaviour to evade detection in the future.”

 With inputs from agencies

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