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Modi govt officials asked Apple to soften impact of hack warnings?

Government officials reportedly pressured Apple to downplay warnings issued to Opposition leaders and journalists regarding potential hacking attempts by "state-sponsored attackers" on their iPhones. According to the Washington Post, government officials summoned an Apple security expert to a meeting in New Delhi, urging alternative explanations for the warnings

Modi govt officials asked Apple to soften impact of hack warnings?
First Published Dec 28, 2023, 8:55 AM IST

Apple's warnings to Opposition leaders and journalists in India about potential hacking attempts on their iPhones by "state-sponsored attackers" triggered a quick response from the Narendra Modi government whose officials allegedly exerted pressure on the iPhone maker to soften the political impact of the warnings, a report from the Washington Post claimed. The newspaper, citing three unidentified sources, disclosed that Indian authorities even summoned an Apple security expert to a meeting in New Delhi, urging them to provide alternative explanations for the warnings to users.

Despite the government's efforts, the visiting Apple official reportedly stood by the company's warnings. The Washington Post claims that the intensity of the Indian government's attempt to discredit and influence Apple disturbed executives at the company's headquarters.

On October 31, several leaders from the Opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) and some journalists reported receiving emails from Apple warning them of potential state-sponsored attackers trying to compromise their iPhones remotely. Screenshots of notifications stating, 'Apple believes you are being targeted by state-sponsored attackers who are trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with your Apple ID,' were shared on social media.

Apple clarified that it does not attribute the threat notifications to any specific state-sponsored attacker, noting, '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.'

Union IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw expressed concern over the threat notifications from Apple but dismissed claims from the Opposition that the government had engaged in attempts to compromise their phones. Vaishnaw assured a press conference that the government is investigating the issue.

In a series of social media posts, Vaishnaw later commented that "much of the information by Apple on this issue seems vague and non-specific in nature." The incident underscores the delicate intersection of technology, national security, and political tensions in the digital age. The investigation into the alleged hacking attempts remains ongoing.

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