In an unforeseen development, the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Russia ignited a fresh diplomatic controversy by accusing the U.S. of deploying an advanced surveillance system that compromised thousands of iPhones.
The FSB, a contemporary incarnation of the Soviet-era KGB, has emphasized that the alleged espionage operation targeted not just native Russians but also numerous foreign diplomats stationed in Russia and ex-Soviet territories.
Russia unveils the unseen enemy
According to the FSB, this operation starkly underscores the purported tight-knit collaboration between Apple Inc., the maker of iPhones, and the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).
This latter organization specializes in managing security and intelligence around communication and cryptography. However, the FSB offered no tangible proof to suggest that Apple had willingly participated in or possessed an awareness of this purported spying endeavor.
Apple promptly rejected these allegations, with the company affirming, “We have never collaborated with any government to incorporate a backdoor into any Apple product, and we will never do so.”
Moscow’s esteemed cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Lab, was also brought into the fray, with many of its employees’ devices allegedly falling prey to this sophisticated cyberattack.
According to the company’s CEO, Eugene Kaspersky, the attack primarily focused on employees in “top and middle-management” roles, defining the event as an “extremely complex, professionally targeted cyberattack.”
Kaspersky researchers independently detected suspicious traffic on the company’s internal Wi-Fi network, which reportedly began at the start of the year.
Interestingly, the earliest traces of infection go back as far as 2019. However, while the staff was impacted, Kaspersky believes that it wasn’t the primary target of this cyber onslaught.
The scope and scale of alleged surveillance
Remarkably, Russia contends that the American cyber spies managed to compromise the digital security of diplomats from a diverse array of nations, including Israel, Syria, China, and NATO member countries.
The timing of this revelation is particularly intriguing, considering that the U.S. leads the global cyber power index as of 2022, followed by China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
Given the significance of these charges, both Russia’s Foreign Ministry and Kremlin have expressed concerns, accusing U.S. intelligence of exploiting U.S.-manufactured mobile phones to clandestinely collect data.
“The U.S. intelligence services have been employing IT corporations for decades to gather large-scale data of internet users without their consent,” Russia’s foreign ministry commented.
This dramatic discovery is reported to be a collaborative achievement of FSB officers and members of the Federal Guards Service (FSO), a formidable agency tasked with overseeing the Kremlin’s security detail.
This latest accusation exacerbates the long-held skepticism within Russia over the security of U.S. technology, culminating in a recent directive by the Kremlin to discontinue the use of Apple iPhones by officials working on Russia’s 2024 presidential election campaign.
It seems that amidst rising geopolitical tensions and increasingly sophisticated cyber warfare tactics, Russia’s recent allegations have amplified the need for robust international norms and accountability in the realm of cybersecurity.