Targeted For Who You Are, Apple Warns Indian Oppn Leaders

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NEW DELHI, Oct 31: About a dozen prominent opposition leaders, some activists and journalists, who received an alert on their phones that suspected state-sponsored attackers were targeting them, have been warned by Apple, one of the biggest technology companies of the world that the attackers were possibly picking on them individually because of “who you are or what you do”.

The tech-giant, Apple has warned the Indian opposition politicians that if their devices are compromised by a state-sponsored attacker, they might be able to remotely access their sensitive data, communications or even the camera and microphone.

“While it’s possible this is a false alarm, please take this warning seriously,” Apple warned in the mail shared by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on X.

Many opposition leaders claimed on October 31 that they had received an alert from Apple, warning them of “state-sponsored attackers trying to remotely compromise” their iPhones and alleged hacking by the government, without specifying which government.

Reacting to reports appearing in the press in India and abroad, Union minister Ashwini Vaishnaw rejected the charge but ordered a thorough probe.

On August 23 this year, the tech-giant said on its website that Apple threat notifications were designed to warn, inform and assist users who may have been targeted by state-sponsored attackers.

In the mail as well as on its website, Apple warned that “these attackers are likely targeting you individually because of who you are or what you do”.

Apple also warned that state-sponsored attackers apply exceptional resources to target a very small number of specific individuals and their devices, which makes these attacks much harder to detect and prevent, a post on the Apple website said.

“State-sponsored attacks are highly complex, cost millions of dollars to develop and often have a short shelf life. The vast majority of users will never be targeted by such attacks,” it said on its website.

Those who received such notifications included Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, party leaders Tharoor, Pawan Khera, K C Venugopal, Supriya Shrinate, Trinamool Congress’s Mahua Moitra, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav.

Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Priyanka Chaturvedi, Aam Aadmi Party’s Raghav Chadha, AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi and some aides of Congress MP Rahul Gandhi have also received the notification. Besides them, founding editor of The Wire Siddharth Varadarajan also received similar notifications. The list of those having received such notifications has been increasing with the passage of everyday in India.

In its mail to the opposition leaders, Apple has warned that some State-sponsored attacks require “no interaction from you, and others rely on tricking you into clicking a malicious link or opening an attachment in an email, SMS or other message”.

“These attempts can be quite convincing, ranging from fake package-tracking updates to custom-crafted, emotional appeals claiming a named family member is in danger. Be cautious with all links you receive and don’t open any links or attachments…,” it said.

The tech-giant further said it is unable to provide more information about what led it to send this notification to the opposition leaders as that may help the state- sponsored attackers alter their behaviour to evade detection in the future.

The tech-giant also did not specify from where the attackers were emerging, either within India or from around the world.