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Apple issues spyware attack alert to people in 92 countries

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Apple has warned users in 92 countries, including India, about potential mercenary spyware attacks on their devices. These targeted attacks, characterised by their intricate nature and substantial financial backing, have prompted Apple to introduce advanced threat notifications and proactive security measures.

Mercenary spyware attacks, typically orchestrated by state actors or private entities like the NSO group, target specific individuals such as journalists, activists, politicians, and diplomats. These attacks, marked by their high cost and rapid evolution, pose a formidable challenge to traditional cybersecurity protocols.

Apple’s new threat notifications, introduced in 2021 and refined since then, are designed to alert and assist users who may have fallen prey to targeted cyber assaults. Issued multiple times a year and covering over 150 countries, these notifications serve as high-confidence alerts indicating potential mercenary spyware activity.

Apple is sending email and iMessage notifications to those affected. However, to ascertain that it’s not a phishing attempt, people should log in to their Apple ID and check if a threat notification appears.

“Apple detected that you are being targeted by a mercenary spyware attack that is trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with your Apple ID,” said the warning from the company. “This attack is likely targeting you specifically because of who you are or what you do. Although it’s never possible to achieve absolute certainty when detecting such attacks, Apple has high confidence in this warning — please take it seriously.”

The threat notifications are accompanied by actionable steps, including activating Lockdown Mode, to secure devices and data against potential breaches.

Last year too Apple warned some Pegasus-affected users.

The warning continued, “We are unable to provide more information about what caused us to send you this notification, as that may help mercenary spyware attackers adapt their behaviour to evade detection in the future.”

The threat notification comes as most countries prepare for the upcoming elections. In India, the elections will be held from April 19 to June 1, 2024.

Apple sent a similar warning to Indian journalists and activists last year. In December 2023, a report by Amnesty International claimed that Indian journalists are still being targeted by Pegasus spyware.

In September last year, Apple fixed two zero-day flaws exploited for spying by Pegasus, a spyware developed by the NSO Group.

Apple also refused to unlock the phone of a prominent jailed politician when requested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the economic intelligence agency of India, which has been turned into a political puppet at the hands of the incumbent.

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Kumar Hemant

Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations. You can contact him here: kumarhemant@pm.me

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