Opposition Leaders Accuse Government of Hacking Attempts
Several Indian opposition leaders and journalists have accused the government of trying to hack into their phones after receiving warning messages from Apple. Apple’s alert stated that it believed the recipients were “being targeted by state-sponsored attackers” without specifying the attackers’ identity. The Indian government has dismissed these allegations, with federal ministers calling them “destructive politics.” However, they also noted that the government would “investigate to get to the bottom of these notifications.”
Around a dozen opposition politicians, including MPs from the Congress party and other opposition parties, confirmed receiving the messages from Apple. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi stated that he and his staff had also received the alert and expressed no fear, saying, “You can do as much [phone] tapping as you want, I don’t care.”
Some journalists, including Siddharth Varadarajan, a founding editor of news website The Wire, reported receiving the message as well. The government has asked Apple to participate in the investigation “with real, accurate information on the alleged state-sponsored attacks,” according to federal information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
Apple’s Statement on State-Sponsored Attacks
Apple’s support page for users explains that “state-sponsored attackers are very well-funded and sophisticated, and their attacks evolve over time.” These attackers target a “very small number of specific individuals and their devices.” However, Apple does not provide specific details about what triggers these threat notifications, as revealing such information could help state-sponsored attackers adapt their behavior to avoid detection in the future.
Technology analyst Prasanto K Roy explained that companies like Apple look for activity patterns to detect large-scale, coordinated malware attacks. While it is technically possible to attribute such attacks to a particular country or state agency, Apple prefers not to make specific attributions.
Political Reactions and Allegations
Indian politicians and journalists shared screenshots of the messages they received from Apple on social media, with some pointing out that no member of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had confirmed receiving the notification yet. Opposition leaders raised questions about the selectiveness of these notifications.
However, later in the day, BJP minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar stated that his colleague Piyush Goyal had also received the alert, prompting further discussions about the implications of the notifications.
Aam Aadmi Party MP Raghav Chadha connected the alerts to the upcoming general election and stated that they should be viewed within the context of ongoing attacks on the opposition.
BJP leaders responded to the allegations by calling them baseless and shifting the responsibility to Apple to clarify the meaning of the notifications.
Historical Surveillance Allegations
Several opposition leaders in India had previously accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of placing them under surveillance. In 2019, WhatsApp filed a lawsuit alleging that Indian journalists and activists were targeted by Pegasus, a surveillance software developed by Israeli firm NSO Group. NSO claimed to work only with government agencies.
In 2021, Indian website The Wire reported that over 300 phone numbers on a leaked database of thousands of numbers, associated with government clients of NSO, belonged to Indians.
Additionally, in the previous year, a political controversy arose after the New York Times reported that India had acquired Pegasus from Israel as part of a defense deal in 2017. The Indian government denied purchasing the spyware.
As the allegations continue to circulate, questions surrounding the notifications and their implications persist.