Russia says US hacked thousands of Apple phones as part of spy scheme

Moscow Says US NSA Invaded Apple Phones in Russia Apple denies Russian claim that it supported NSA. Kaspersky says senior executives’ iPhones have been compromised

MOSCOW, June 1 (Reuters) – Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Thursday it had uncovered an American spy operation in which thousands of iPhones were compromised using sophisticated surveillance software.

Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab said dozens of its employees’ devices were compromised in the operation.

The FSB, the main Soviet-era successor to the KGB, said in a statement that several thousand Apple Inc (AAPL.O) devices had been infected, including those of domestic Russian subscribers as well as those of foreign diplomats based in Russia and the former Soviet Union Union.

“The FSB has uncovered an intelligence operation by American intelligence agencies using Apple mobile devices,” the FSB said in a statement.

The FSB said the conspiracy shows “close cooperation” between Apple and the National Security Agency (NSA), the US agency responsible for cryptographic and communications intelligence and security. The FSB presented no evidence that Apple cooperated with or had knowledge of the spy campaign.

In a statement, Apple denied the allegation. “We have never worked with any government to put a backdoor in an Apple product, and we never will,” the company said in a statement.

The NSA declined to comment.

Kaspersky CEO Eugene Kaspersky said on Twitter that dozens of his employees’ phones were compromised in what his company described as “an extremely complex, professionally targeted cyberattack” targeting “upper and middle management” employees .

Kaspersky researcher Igor Kuznetsov told Reuters that his company independently discovered anomalous traffic on its corporate Wi-Fi network earlier in the year. He said Kaspersky only forwarded its findings to the Russian Computer Emergency Response Team on Thursday.

He said he could not comment on Moscow’s claims that Americans were responsible for the hack or that thousands of others had been targeted.

“It’s very hard to attribute anything to anyone,” he said.

In a blog post, Kaspersky said the oldest traces of an infection it had discovered dated back to 2019. “As of writing this June 2023, the attack is ongoing,” the company said. The company added that while employees were affected, “we are fairly confident that Kaspersky was not the primary target of this cyberattack.”

The FSB said the American hackers compromised diplomats from Israel, Syria, China and NATO members as part of the espionage campaign.

Israeli officials declined to comment. Chinese, Syrian and NATO representatives were initially unable to comment.

US snooper?

According to Harvard University’s Belfer Center Cyber ​​2022 Power Index, the United States is the world’s largest cyber power in terms of intent and capability, followed by China, Russia, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Both the Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry underlined the importance of the matter.

“The hidden data collection was carried out through software vulnerabilities in US-made cellphones,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The US secret services have been using IT companies for decades to collect data from Internet users on a large scale without their knowledge,” the ministry said.

Russian officials said the conspiracy was uncovered as part of a joint effort by FSB officials and those of the Federal Guards Service (FSO), a powerful agency that directs the Kremlin’s bodyguard and was also formerly the Ninth Directorate of the KGB.

Officials in Russia, which Western spies say has built a very sophisticated domestic surveillance structure, have long questioned the security of US technology.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said all officials in the presidential administration know that devices like iPhones are “absolutely transparent.”

Earlier this year, the Kremlin asked officials involved in preparations for Russia’s 2024 presidential election to stop using Apple iPhones amid concerns the devices were vulnerable to Western intelligence agencies, the Kommersant newspaper reported.

Writing by Guy Faulconbridge. Additional reporting by Raphael Satter in Washington, James Pearson in London and Zeba Siddiqui in San Francisco. Edited by Mark Potter, Andrew Heavens, Matthew Lewis and Diane Craft

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Guy Faulconbridge

Thomson Reuters

As head of the Moscow office, Guy oversees reporting on Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Before Moscow, Guy led Brexit coverage as head of the London office (2012–2022). On Brexit night, his team achieved one of Reuters’ historic achievements: it was the first to report on Brexit to the world and financial markets. Guy graduated from the London School of Economics and began his career as an intern at Bloomberg. He has spent over 14 years covering the former Soviet Union. He is fluent in Russian. Contact: +447825218698