Apple allegedly provides backdoors to US intelligence agencies to spy on thousands of iPhones, Reuters reports, citing sources
The US intelligence agencies have gained access to thousands of Apple iPhones in a spy plot, Reuters reported, citing an alleged claim by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). According to the report, FSB claimed it has uncovered a major CIA surveillance operation bugging thousands of iPhones of diplomats including those from NATO members, Israel, Syria, and China.
In a report on Thursday, Reuters wrote:
“FSB said it had uncovered a U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) plot using previously unknown malware to access specially made so-called backdoor vulnerabilities in Apple phones.”
The FSB, which is the primary successor to the Soviet-era KGB, reported that a significant number of Apple phones, including those owned by Russian citizens, had been infected, Reuters reported.
The news may not be surprising to those in the cybersecurity field. Hacker News reported that the “CIA has been hacking iPhone and iPad encryption security” for years. Citing the top-secret documents obtained from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, The Intercept blog reported that in an attempt to crack encryption keys implanted into Apple’s mobile processor, the researchers working for the CIA had created a dummy version of Xcode.
Meanwhile, The Russian intelligence agency further stated that the phones of foreign diplomats stationed in Russia and the former Soviet Union, including representatives from NATO member countries, Israel, Syria, and China, had also been specifically targeted.
“The FSB has uncovered an intelligence action of the American special services using Apple mobile devices,” the FSB said in a statement. According to Reuters, both Apple and the NSA have not yet responded to the requests for comment sent via email outside regular U.S. business hours.
The news comes almost two years after former NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden warned that: “The greatest danger to national security has become the companies that claim to protect it.” Snowden previously revealed a terrifying leak that he said was going to be “the story of the year.”
Snowden sounded the alarm bell about the military-grade Pegasus spyware developed by an Israeli cybersecurity startup NSO Group. In a blog post on SubStack, Snowden also warned that the smartphones we use have become the most “the most dangerous item” we possess after he discovered a hidden microphone in his smartphone.
It appears Apple is aware of the vulnerability in its iPhone. Last year, Apple rolled out a new “Lockdown Mode” option that enables millions of its users to disable some of the iPhone features that have proven vulnerable to government spyware and hackers. The new feature was included in the latest iPhone and Mac software and was expected to protect users against mercenary spyware unleashed by state-sponsored hackers.
However, Reuters said that “the FSB said the plot showed the close relationship between Apple and the NSA, the U.S. agency responsible for U.S. cryptographic and communications intelligence and security.”
“The hidden data collection was carried out through software vulnerabilities in U.S.-made mobile phones,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The U.S. intelligence services have been using IT corporations for decades in order to collect large-scale data of Internet users without their knowledge,” the ministry said.
Meanwhile, according to Harvard University’s Belfer Center Cyber 2022 Power Index, the United States is the leading global cyber power in terms of both capability and intention. China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Australia follow closely behind in the rankings.
After Russia’s deployment of troops into Ukraine last year, intelligence agencies from the United States and the United Kingdom claimed a significant achievement by publicly revealing their intelligence indicating President Vladimir Putin’s plans for invasion. However, the specific methods employed to obtain this intelligence remain undisclosed.
Given the Western intelligence agencies’ assertion that Russia has established an advanced domestic surveillance infrastructure, Russian officials have long raised concerns about the security of U.S. technology.