Russia says US intelligence hacked thousands of iPhones

FSB accuses Apple of working closely with US intelligence agencies after disclosing alleged ‘intelligence action’.

Russian law enforcement officers stand guard in Red Square, with people seen on the dome of the Kremlin Senate building in the background, in central Moscow, Russia, May 3, 2023.
Russia has accused the US of hacking thousands of iPhones in the country [File: Evgenia Novozhenina

Russia has accused United States intelligence agencies of hacking thousands of iPhones belonging to Russian users and foreign diplomats in the country.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Thursday that it had discovered an “intelligence action” that had compromised the phones of Russians as well as diplomats from Israel, Syria, China and NATO members.

The FSB, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB spy service, said Apple worked closely with US spy agencies, including the National Security Agency (NSA), but did not provide evidence for its claim.

In a statement, Apple did not comment on whether iPhones in Russia had been hacked but denied working with authorities to compromise its devices.

“We have never worked with any government to insert a backdoor into any Apple product and never will,” the California-based tech giant said.

The NSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Separately, the chief executive of the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab said that dozens of senior employees had been victims of an “extremely complex, professional targeted cyberattack.”

In a blog post, Eugene Kaspersky said the attack had been carried out using an invisible iMessage with a malicious attachment that exploited vulnerabilities in the iOS operating system.

“We’re confident that Kaspersky was not the main target of this cyberattack. The coming days will bring more clarity and further details on the worldwide proliferation of this spyware,” Kaspersky said.

Kaspersky, which is headquartered in Moscow but has offices in more than 30 countries, did not attribute the attack to a particular country or actor.

The alleged cyber-espionage campaign comes as relations between Russia and the US are the most fraught they have been in decades due to Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

Last month, the US Department of Justice said it had disrupted a malware campaign conducted by the FSB over two decades against targets in more than 50 countries.

In March, the Kremlin told officials involved in organising Russia’s 2024 presidential election to not use iPhones due to concerns that the devices could be vulnerable to infiltration by Western spy agencies, local media reported.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies