Apple Alerts iPhone Users To 92 Countries Of “Mercenary Spyware” Attack

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“Apple alerts 91 countries, including India, of state-sponsored spyware targeting Indian politicians, focusing on uncertainty and advanced attacks.”

Apple Alerts iPhone Users to 92 Countries of "Mercenary Spyware" Attack
Source: Google [Image by the Week]

States-sponsored spyware attacks on Indian politicians

Apple has issued alerts to iPhone owners in 91 other countries, including India. The company alerted users to the possibility that “mercenary spyware,” which includes Pegasus, an Israeli company called NSO Group, was attacking their iPhones. They issued similar alerts in October of last year to Indian politicians belonging to various parties, speculating about a potential state-sponsored spyware assault on their iPhones. Later on, Apple stated that they were unable to identify a particular attacker.

Uncertainty and Lack of Attribution in Attacks

None of the attackers were held responsible for the attacks in these warnings. Around 12:30 a.m. IST on a Thursday, the warning emails were sent out. Uncertainty surrounds the number of recipients. The emails stated that Pegasus spyware was being used worldwide to target individuals and mentioned similar tools.

Details of Apple’s Warning Email

The email included the subject line, “ALERT: Apple detected a targeted mercenary spyware attack against your iPhone.” In the email, Apple clarified that these attacks are extremely expensive, highly skilled, uncommon, and unique to a small number of targets. When opening attachments or links from senders they didn’t know, they cautioned users.
“Apple has discovered that the iPhone linked to your Apple ID (xxx) is the target of a mercenary spyware attack that aims to remotely compromise it. You are probably the specific target of this attack because of who you are or what you do. Apple has high confidence in this warning; please take it seriously, even though it’s never possible to achieve absolute certainty when detecting such attacks, as the email stated.

Attacks with mercenary spyware, like the ones that use Pegasus from the NSO Group, are incredibly uncommon and far more advanced than typical cybercrime or consumer malware. The targeting is ongoing and worldwide, but the attacks are expensive and targeted at a very limited number of individuals, according to Apple’s threat report.
Since providing more information could aid in the attackers’ evasion, Apple was unable to provide a more detailed explanation for the warnings. Their support page has been updated to assist users who may be targeted.
These alerts were first sent by Apple in 2021, and recipients have come from 150 different nations. These alerts were also sent to at least twenty Indian iPhone users last year.

Challenges in Investigating Unauthorized Surveillance Claims

Similar problems haven’t resulted in much success in previous investigations. The Indian Supreme Court established a committee in 2021 to investigate claims of unauthorized Pegasus surveillance. But in part because of the government’s lack of cooperation, they were unable to find conclusive evidence. Ultimately, Apple wants its users to stay safe online and aware of the risks associated with these kinds of attacks.

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