The government has played down “surveillance” claims by opposition MPs who shared messages from Apple warning of “state-sponsored” attackers trying to hack their phones. IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said Apple had issued such notifications in 150 countries, that these were “based on often imperfect, incomplete” data, and that some may be “false alarms”.
Mr Vaishnaw, however, also said the government “takes its role of protecting privacy and security of all citizens very seriously”, and that a detailed investigation had been ordered. “… (we) will investigate to get to the bottom of these notifications… we have also asked Apple to join the investigation with real, accurate information on the alleged state-sponsored attacks.”
The IT Minister said the alerts “seem non-specific” and added, “Apple claims IDs are securely encrypted on devices… making it extremely difficult to access them without the user’s explicit permission. This encryption safeguards the user’s ID…”
information by Apple on this issue seems vague and non-specific in nature. Apple states these notifications maybe based on information which is ‘incomplete or imperfect’. It also states that some Apple threat notifications maybe false alarms or some attacks are not detected.(2/5)
— Ashwini Vaishnaw (@AshwiniVaishnaw) October 31, 2023
Mr Vaishnaw then called the opposition MPs – who include Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Priyanka Chaturvedi and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra – “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.”
“They tried this a few years ago as well,” he said, referring to the controversial Pegasus spyware scandal. “We conducted an investigation, supervised by the judiciary, but nothing came of it. This is a falsehood some are trying to spread,” he said.
Meanwhile, sources have told NDTV the government will write to Apple about use of the term “state-sponsored” attackers, and junior IT Minister, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, has asked it three questions.
Earlier today multiple opposition MPs, also including Congress leaders Pawan Khera and Shashi Tharoor, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Raghav Chadha, posted screenshots of messages/emails they received.
— Priyanka Chaturvedi🇮🇳 (@priyankac19) October 30, 2023
Apple has said it “does not attribute notifications to any specific state-sponsored attacker”.
In a statement drawn from its technical support page, Apple said “state-sponsored attackers tend to be very well-funded and sophisticated… detecting such attacks relies on threat intelligence signals… often imperfect and incomplete.”
The row over “state-sponsored attackers” and alleged hacking of opposition MPs’ and others’ phones – sources said people in Congress MP Rahul Gandhi’s office also received messages – come days before five state polls, including party-ruled Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
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