Apple changes ‘state-backed’ hacking language months after India ‘pressure’

The company now calls the advanced hacking attempts of which it alerts targets of government hacking “mercenary attacks”

April 11, 2024 05:48 pm | Updated 06:17 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Photo used for representation purpose only.

Photo used for representation purpose only. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Apple, Inc. is now calling “state-backed attackers” “mercenary” hackers in email alerts to affected customers, and has changed this language on support documentation on its website as well. This change from the iPhone maker comes months after a report of “pressure” from the Indian government to give authorities deniability for hacking attempts on political leaders, journalists and activists, who have repeatedly been alerted of unauthorised intrusions into their phones from spyware like Pegasus, which the Intelligence Bureau acquired in 2017.

The change, which now takes direct heat off of any individual nation-states following hacking attempts, coincided with media reports on Thursday morning claiming that a fresh batch of such notifications were sent to users in India and 91 other countries. However, hours after these reports came up, not a single user in any of these countries has publicly reported receiving such an alert. Last November, Apple and the Union government misleadingly claimed that users in 150 countries received such hacking alerts, when in fact only users in India reported receiving them that week.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the record on the change in language. Three people who have received such alerts previously in India told The Hindu that they didn’t receive any in the last day. London-based rights group Amnesty International has opened a digital security helpline for individuals who received the alert.

Last December, The Washington Post had reported that “senior Modi administration officials called Apple’s India representatives to demand that the company help soften the political impact of the warnings,” referring to November’s alerts. At least two individuals who received the alerts that month — the Congress party’s Praveen Chakravarty and news portal The Wire’s founder editor Siddharth Varadarajan — found in separate forensic examinations that their phones had traces of the Pegasus spyware.

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