Apple has denied allegations that it helped US authorities spy on Russian iPhone users.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on Thursday claimed it uncovered a US National Security Agency (NSA) operation which hacked several thousand iPhones using sophisticated surveillance software.
The US intelligence agency was allegedly able to use specifically-designed “software vulnerabilities” to infect Apple’s phones with previously unknown malware, according to Russia’s foreign ministry.
The FSB claimed the espionage operation targeted devices belonging to former Soviet Union members and Russian-based foreign diplomats, including those from Israel, China and NATO.
The successor to Russia’s Soviet-era KGB said that the plot showed “close cooperation” between Apple and the NSA, the US national security agency tasked with collecting and monitoring data.
The FSB said: “The company provides American intelligence agencies with a wide range of opportunities to monitor any persons of interest to the White House and their partners in anti-Russian activities, and their own citizens.”
Apple has denied these claims. The California-based tech giant said: “We have never worked with any government to insert a backdoor into any Apple product and never will.”
According to the FSB, it discovered the covert campaign in collaboration with Russia’s Federal Guards Service, which provides security to the Kremlin.
“The US intelligence services have been using IT corporations for decades in order to collect large-scale data of Internet users without their knowledge,” said Russia’s foreign ministry.
However, the FSB has provided no evidence that Apple cooperated with the NSA or had any awareness of its alleged spying plot.
Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based antivirus company, has since reported that an undisclosed number of workers’ iPhones were targeted in “an extremely complex, professionally targeted cyberattack”.
The cybersecurity firm claimed that spyware was installed through vulnerabilities in Apple’s iOS operating system, which then transmitted information from phones to remote servers.
The attack is said to have targeted devices belonging to Kaspersky Lab’s “top and middle-management”.
It comes after the Kremlin ordered officials involved with Russia’s upcoming 2024 presidential election to stop using iPhones amid security concerns, the Kommersant newspaper reported.