Security

Apple warns Indian opposition leaders of state-sponsored iPhone attacks

Comment

BJP MP Hema Malini Launches Her Brother RK Chakravarti's Autobiography "Galloping Decades"
Image Credits: Manoj Verma / Hindustan Times / Getty Images

Apple has warned over a half dozen Indian lawmakers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s main opposition of their iPhones being targets of state-sponsored attacks, these people said Tuesday, in a serious digital espionage charge just months ahead of next year’s general elections.

Rahul Gandhi, Indian opposition leader, said in a media briefing Tuesday that his team had received the said alert from Apple. Shashi Tharoor, a key figure from the Congress party; Akhilesh Yadav, the head of the Samajwadi Party; Mahua Moitra, a national representative from the All India Trinamool Congress; and Priyanka Chaturvedi of Shiv Sena, a party with notable influence in Maharashtra reported that they too had been notified by Apple regarding a potential security attack on their iPhones.

Asaduddin Owaisi, the leader of the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM); Raghav Chadha from AAP, originating from an anti-corruption crusade a decade prior and later securing a political foothold in the national capital region; Sitaram Yechury, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India; and Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera were also impacted, they said.  

Journalists Siddharth Varadarajan and Sriram Karri, along with Observer Research Foundation (ORF) India President Samir Saran shared that they had been served with identical warnings from Apple.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple confirmed that it had sent threat notifications to individuals but added that it hadn’t attributed the threat notifications to any specific state-sponsored attacker.

“State-sponsored attackers are very well-funded and sophisticated, and their attacks evolve over time. Detecting such attacks relies on threat intelligence signals that are often imperfect and incomplete. It’s possible that some Apple threat notifications may be false alarms, or that some attacks are not detected. We are unable to provide information about what causes us to issue threat notifications, as that may help state-sponsored attackers adapt their behavior to evade detection in the future.”

India’s IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the government is concerned about the matter and is investigating to find the truth. He also downplayed the allegations, saying the threat notifications received by them was “vague” and merely “estimations.”

New Delhi has been accused of deploying the Pegasus spyware, blacklisted by the U.S. government, on activists and opposition leaders for years. While India has never acknowledged dealings with NSO, the Israeli developer of Pegasus, the company’s malware, has been found on the phones of journalists, academics and opposition leaders in the country.

Financial Times reported in March that the Indian government was seeking new spyware contracts. But to be sure, there’s no official statement or confirmation that narrows the blame for the new episode on New Delhi.

Apar Gupta, a senior privacy activist, said the timing of these notifications was nonetheless alarming.

“Public cynicism or judicial stupor should not preclude us from demanding an independent, transparent technical analysis and clear disclosures from the Government of India regarding its spyware purchases and deployments. This issue strikes at the heart of Indian democracy,” he wrote in a tweet.

Apple has previously recommended users receiving this alert to activate the Lockdown mode, a security measure unveiled in 2022, aimed at safeguarding individuals like journalists, politicians, attorneys, and human rights advocates from state-sponsored spyware intrusions.

This mode curtails link previews in messages, minimizes Safari functionality by turning off features like just-in-time (JIT) compilers to halt malicious JavaScript execution, restricts users from opening attachments, and disables receipt of FaceTime calls from unfamiliar contacts.

Since enabling the threats notifications feature earlier, Apple has alerted individuals in nearly 150 countries.

Ivan Mehta contributed to this report.

More TechCrunch

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

24 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares