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Business News/ News / World/  Thousands of iPhones compromised in spying operation linked to US, Russia alleges

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has made a claim without providing evidence, accusing the United States government of orchestrating a spying operation that compromised several thousand iPhones within the country, according to a Reuters' report. The allegation was reported by The Washington Post.

According to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the espionage campaign targeted diplomats and other individuals, with the compromised iPhones serving as a means of unauthorized surveillance, as the Reuters' report.  The FSB further alleged that the United States was responsible, and that the vulnerability's presence proved Apple had worked with US government hackers.

In response to the accusations, Apple swiftly denied any collaboration with governments to insert backdoors into their products. An Apple spokesperson, as reported by The Washington Post, emphasized the company's commitment to user privacy and security, stating, "We have never worked with any government to insert a backdoor into any Apple product and never will."

Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Lab, which itself fell victim to the campaign, provided additional insights into the matter. The cybersecurity firm stated that the attacks originated from iMessage attachments, a technique resembling the vector employed by NSO Group and other vendors of spyware utilized by international government agencies. However, Kaspersky noted that it currently lacks sufficient technical proof to attribute the breaches to any specific government or organization.

A spokesperson stated that the government believed iPhones to be inherently unsafe.

According to Kaspersky, none of the compromised devices were found to be using an operating system more recent than iOS 15.7, which was replaced in September 2022. Additionally, the impacted iPhones did not have Lockdown Mode enabled, a security setting that reduces potential attack vectors by limiting certain functionalities, including iMessage.

Despite the FSB's claims, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to provide any comment on the matter. The foreign ministries of China and Israel, countries whose diplomats were allegedly among the targets, did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post.

International spying frequently targets the gadgets used by embassies and private security professionals. A high-end government spying operation would more frequently exploit a zero-day vulnerability, which is an undiscovered defect that still affects software that is fully patched.

Kaspersky notified the firm just hours before the FSB revealed its findings and did not divulge much that would have helped Apple determine what vulnerability was used.

Kaspersky Lab, known for its collaboration with Russian law enforcement, shared a list of obscure websites used to connect with the compromised devices and provided technical indicators of penetration for users to examine their own iPhones.

(With Reuters inputs)

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Updated: 02 Jun 2023, 03:16 PM IST
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