Apple Warns India's Opposition Candidates of Targeting
Opposition Candidates Hit By State-Sponsored Targeting Ahead of Election
In a concerning development, several political opposition figures in India were alerted by Apple on Tuesday about potential hacking attempts by state-sponsored attackers, The New York Times reported on November 1.
The notifications were sent to individuals known for their criticism of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its associates.
One of the recipients, Mahua Moitra, a member of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Parliament of India, took to social media to share her alert. Moitra, a vocal critic of industrialist Gautam Adani's connections to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is currently under investigation by a parliamentary ethics committee. She blamed the Ministry of Home Affairs for the attempted hacking of her phone.
Shashi Tharoor, another opposition MP in the Lok Sabha, also received an alert from Apple. The notification advised him to update his iPhone to the latest software version and enable Lockdown Mode, a feature designed to protect users from sophisticated spyware.
The alerts sent by Apple provided limited information, stating, "We are unable to provide more information about what caused us to send you this notification, as that may help state-sponsored attackers adapt their behavior to evade detection in the future."
Apart from Moitra and Tharoor, other opposition figures targeted include Rahul Gandhi, who was previously disqualified as an MP after being convicted of defaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surname. Priyanka Chaturvedi and Raghav Chadha, along with several staffers from opposing parties, were also reportedly targeted.
Raghav Chadha, speaking about the incident, emphasized the importance of his smartphone in performing his parliamentary duties, engaging with his constituency, and addressing requests. He also uses it to question what he describes as the "dictatorial practices of the Central Government." Chadha further highlighted the timing of the hacking attempts, as India is mere months away from a General Election. Chadha has been highly critical of what he views as dictatorial behavior from India's government over recent months.
"Early this morning I received a concerning notification from Apple, warning me about a potential state-sponsored spyware attack on my phone," Chadha wrote, in a post to X (formerly Twitter) on October 31.
Chadha proceeded to condemn the attacks:
"This snooping is happening as we are merely months away from a General Election. It must also be placed within the broader attacks on the opposition who are facing relentless repression by investigatory agencies, politically motivated criminal cases and incarceration," he wrote.
The targeting of opposition figures and their staff members raises concerns about the broader attacks on dissenting voices in India. The relentless repression faced by the opposition has been a matter of growing concern among civil rights advocates and international observers.
Apple's warning serves as a reminder of the increasing sophistication of state-sponsored cyberattacks. By alerting individuals and recommending security measures, the tech giant aims to protect its users from potential intrusions. However, the lack of detailed information about the attacks highlights the challenges faced in combating such threats.
As the General Election approaches, it is crucial to ensure the safety and security of political figures and their communication channels. The targeting of opposition voices raises questions about the state of democracy and freedom of expression in India.