Russia accuses Apple of hacking iPhones with US spy agencies

Russia's accusations and Apple's denial

Russia accuses Apple of hacking iPhones with US spy agenciesApple is in hot water after accusations from FSB of conspiring with the US government

Apple, the California-based tech giant, is accused by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) of participating in a coordinated spy campaign with the US government to spy on Russian iPhone users. The FSB claims to have uncovered an American espionage operation that used sophisticated surveillance software to infect thousands of iPhones. Apple, on the other hand, has vehemently denied these allegations, claiming that it has never worked with any government to insert backdoors into its products.

According to the FSB, the surveillance operation took advantage of “unknown software vulnerabilities allowed by the manufacturer,” referring to Apple. According to Oleg Shakirov, a self-styled Russian policy pundit, the FSB discovered a US intelligence operation using iPhone malware that exploited these vulnerabilities. Shakirov went on to say that the operation targeted not only Russian citizens, but also diplomatic missions to Russia from NATO, post-Soviet states, Israel, Syria, and China.

While Shakirov's Twitter statements drew attention, they should be approached with caution. Nonetheless, other news outlets have reported on the allegations, though the veracity of the FSB and Shakirov's claims remains unknown at this time.

Apple issued a statement in response to Russia's accusations, emphatically denying any involvement in the alleged espionage campaign. The company reiterated its commitment to user privacy and security, emphasizing that it has never collaborated with any government to insert backdoors into its products. The National Security Agency (NSA), the United States agency in charge of cryptographic and communications intelligence and security, declined to comment.

Kaspersky Lab detects suspicious activity on iPhones

On the same day as Shakirov's tweets, Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based cybersecurity firm, reported that its SecureList team of cyber analysts had discovered suspicious activity emanating from a number of iOS-based phones. Although Kaspersky did not attribute the campaign to any known threat actors, it did detect traces of compromise on dozens of its employees' devices.

The attack used an invisible iMessage with a malicious attachment, exploiting multiple vulnerabilities in the iOS operating system to install spyware on the targeted devices, according to Kaspersky researchers. The spyware gathered a variety of private information, including microphone recordings, instant messenger photos, geolocation data, and other device owner activities. The compromised devices primarily belonged to top and middle management personnel.

Kaspersky also admitted that the earliest cases of infection date back to 2019.[1] The ongoing Operation Triangulation cyberattack indicated a sophisticated and targeted cyberattack. However, Kaspersky did not confirm whether its own company was the primary target or whether the attack affected thousands of other people, as the FSB claimed.

It is worth noting that Kaspersky has come under fire for alleged ties to Russian intelligence, including the FSB. Although these allegations have yet to be proven, they raise questions about the firm's dependability and potential biases.

Heightened tensions and concerns over US technology

The allegations made by Russia's FSB against Apple and the US come at a time when cyber tensions are high. The United States is the world's top cyber power, according to Harvard University's Belfer Center Cyber 2022 Power Index,[2] followed by China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Both the Kremlin and Russia's foreign ministry have emphasized the importance of this issue.

According to Russia's foreign ministry, US intelligence services have been collecting large amounts of data from internet users without their knowledge for decades by exploiting software vulnerabilities in US-made mobile phones. This statement appears to be a reference to the 2013 Snowden whistleblower revelations, which revealed extensive surveillance activities by US intelligence agencies.

Russian officials, who have built a sophisticated domestic surveillance network, have long expressed concerns about the security of US technology. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, stated that officials in the presidential administration are aware that devices such as iPhones are “absolutely transparent.” The Kremlin reportedly instructed officials involved in the preparations for Russia's presidential election in 2024 to stop using Apple iPhones[3] due to concerns about vulnerability to Western intelligence agencies earlier this year.

As the accusations between Russia and the US continue, more investigations and evidence will be needed to determine the veracity of both sides' claims. Meanwhile, Apple maintains its commitment to user privacy and security while denying any involvement in espionage. The international community will keep a close eye on developments in this ongoing dispute, which raises serious concerns about the relationship between technology companies and intelligence agencies.

About the author
Gabriel E. Hall
Gabriel E. Hall - Passionate web researcher

Gabriel E. Hall is a passionate malware researcher who has been working for 2-spyware for almost a decade.

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