Rajat Sharma


AKB30 A political row was triggered on Tuesday when several opposition MPs said, they received alerts from Apple cautioning that their iPhone could be targeted for hacking by “state-sponsored attackers”. The alert read: “ALERT: State-sponsored attackers may be targeting your iPhone. Apple believes you are being targeted by state-sponsored attackers who are trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with your Apple ID. These attackers are likely targeting you individually because of who you are or what you do. If your device is compromised by a state-sponsored attacker, they may be able to remotely access your sensitive data, communications, or even your camera and microphone. While it’s possible this is a false alarm, please take this warning seriously.” These alerts were received by Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge, Shashi Tharoor, Supriya Shrinate, Pawan Khera, K C Venugopal, T S Singhdeo, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, AAP leader Raghav Chadha, Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra, Shiv Sena (UT) MP Priyanka Chaturvedi and CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury. Most of the leaders soon took to social media to express concern and blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for carrying out ‘surveillance’ on opposition. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi may or may not have received the alert, but he linked the issue with Adani, and alleged that the “surveillance attempt is a direct consequence of the recent expose about industrialist Gautam Adani.” Asaduddin Owaisi quoted an Urdu couplet “khoob pardah hai, ki chilman se lage baithe hain, saaf chhupte bhi nahin, saamne aate bhi nahin”. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav outrightly alleged that the Centre is carrying out surveillance of the phones of opposition leaders. Trinamool MP Mahua Moita wrote a letter to Lok Sabha Speaker seeking protection from what she called “illegal surveillance by the government using software available only to state actors”. She wrote, “This threat is doubly shocking in the light of Pegasus software (sold only to governments) that was used to compromise the devices of various members of opposition”. The ministry of electronics and information technology has asked CERT-IN, the nodal agency for responding to computer security incidents, to probe the matter. Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw tweeted: “The Government of Bharat takes its role of protecting the privacy and security of all citizens very seriously and will investigate to get to the bottom of these notifications. …We are concerned by the statements we have seen in media from some MPs as well as others about a notification received by them from Apple. … We have asked Apple to join the investigation with real, accurate information on the alleged state-sponsored attacks. ..Information by Apple on this issue seems to be vague and non-specific in nature. Apple states these notifications may be based on information which is ‘incomplete or imperfect’.” Vaishnaw said, “there are a few people in the country who are compulsive critics. Their only objective is to criticise the government.” Apple Inc has said, “Apple does not attribute the threat notification to any specific state-sponsored attacker…Detecting such attacks relies on threat intelligence signals that are often imperfect and incomplete. It’s possible that some Apple threat notifications may be false alarms or that some attacks are not detected.” Apple says, it has issued the same advisory to 150 countries. Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goel said, if opposition leaders are not satisfied with Apple’s reply, they should file complaint and the government will carry out a probe. He said, it could be that the message could have been sent by hackers to opposition leaders as a joke. BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad reminded that it was Rahul Gandhi who refused to submit his phone for investigation during the Pegasus controversy and had refused to cooperate in the probe. The first point to note is that that the hacking alert went to all leaders of opposition who are quite vocal against the Modi government. Naturally, there can be suspicion whether any government agency is trying to hack their phone or not. Secondly, tapping or hacking of phones of opposition leaders in a democracy cannot be justified on any count, and the government has already said, it will get the matter probed. This is a positive sign and the investigators must find out the truth. They must find out whether there has been any attempt to hack or not. I think, the reactions of leaders to the Apple alert notifications have two aspects: One, it’s an issue of personal privacy and secrecy, and Two, the political angle. Naturally, if any individual gets such an alert from Apple, he or she may suspect that there could have been attempts to hack the phone. If the recipient is an opposition leader, he or she will naturally allege that the government is carrying out surveillance. But the reality is that even Apple does not know who the hackers are, or when the hackings took place. Apple has also said that such alerts are normally sent to users to caution them about hacking. It is not necessary that those who got alerts may have their phones hacked. But one consequence of this alert was that the opposition leaders got a chance to snipe at Narendra Modi. At a time when INDIA opposition bloc leaders were at odds against one another, this alert brought unity among them, and they have started speaking in the same voice..

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