This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) claims thousands of iPhones belonging to the country’s diplomats have suffered a massive hacking attack.
The FSB said in a statement on June 1 that hackers allegedly targeted the iPhones of diplomats working at Russian embassies and consulates in countries that are members of NATO, former Soviet republics, as well as in China, Israel, and Syria.
The statement did not give any details or evidence of the alleged cyberattack, just saying that an “unknown” app that targets vulnerable parts of the iOS operational system was used by the hackers.
“The information obtained by Russian special services indicates close cooperation between the U.S. company Apple with the national security community, namely with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), and confirms that the declared policy of providing confidentiality for the personal data of the users of Apple devices does not correspond to the reality,” the FSB statement said, without giving any information to back up the allegation.
Apple denied the allegation, saying in a statement quoted by Reuters that it has “never worked with any government to insert a backdoor into any Apple product and never will.” The NSA declined to comment, according to the news agency.
The FSB statement was issued a few hours before the Moscow-based antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab said an undisclosed number of its employees’ iPhones were hacked using sophisticated malware.
Kaspersky said the “extremely complex, professionally targeted cyberattack” delivered an invisible message that exploited vulnerabilities in the iOS operating system and that information from the phone was then transmitted to remote servers. Kaspersky said the hacking campaign targeted the company’s “top and middle-management.”
Kaspersky also issued a technical report saying it noticed “suspicious activity that originated from several iOS-based phones” while monitoring traffic on its own corporate Wi-Fi network. The report, which outlined how it said the malicious software worked, describes how the company created off-line backups to inspect the iPhones, and said first traces of the hack date back to 2019 and it is ongoing.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that the FSB’s statement “deserves attention,” though “we do not have the authority” to restrict the usage of iPhones by officials.
Peskov added that while some of Kremlin officials use iPhones, others have also started replacing iPhones with other brands.
Russian media reported in March that some Russian officials allegedly were told to ditch their iPhones over security fears.
Apple and the NSA have previously clashed over securing a so-called back door to allow access to user data. The company has strenuously refused.
In 2021, a mass break-in to Apple products via the Pegasus spying program created by an Israeli company, the NSO Group, was registered. The program was used by intelligence agencies of other countries.
Apple has sued the NSO Group.
Apple stopped direct sales of iPhones in Russia last year over the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine. However, legalized import programs still exist to bring the phones into the country and sell them without the company’s permission.