Russia claimed Apple’s iPhones are spying on its citizens on Thursday and accused the U.S. of being behind it. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) claims the U.S. National Security Agency used malware and backdoors created on the devices to carry out a plot to spy on the citizens and government.
The FSB said in a statement to Sputnik International, a Russian state-owned news outlet, that the U.S. hacked thousands of Apple phones, including those of domestic Russian subscribers, adding that it realized this while securing the infrastructure of Russian telecommunications. “Anomalies were identified that are specific only to users of Apple mobile phones and are caused by the operation of previously unknown malicious software that uses software vulnerabilities provided by the manufacturer,” FSB told the outlet.
The FSB has also claimed the NSA targeted the phones of foreign diplomats based in Russia, including diplomats from Israel, Syria, and China. The FSB said in its statement, “[Apple] provides American intelligence agencies with a wide range of opportunities to monitor any persons of interest to the White House and their partners in anti-Russian activities, and their own citizens,” Apple Insider reported.
The alleged plot to monitor iPhone devices shows “close cooperation” between Apple and the NSA, the FSB said according to Reuters, and the Kremlin and Russia’s foreign ministry added that the matter ranks in high significance.
“The hidden data collection was carried out through software vulnerabilities in U.S.-made mobile phones,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “US intelligence services have been using IT giants for decades to collect internet users’ personal data without their knowledge,” the ministry added.
However, Russia has been known to promote propaganda accusing other countries of espionage attempts, but this time its claims also don’t align with Apple’s history of protecting users’ data. In 2016, Apple pointedly refused an FBI court order to unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino mass shooter Syed Farook who, alongside his wife, killed 14 people and injured several others.
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook refused to unlock the phone and said in an open letter at the time that unlocking the phone would threaten the security of iPhone customers. Cook said the FBI asked Apple to create a new version of the phone’s operating system, essentially creating a backdoor that would give anyone with access the opportunity to unlock any iPhone that someone physically possesses.
Cook said the request was “something we consider too dangerous to create...building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor.” He continued, “And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”
The White House and NSA have not publicly responded to Russia’s accusations, but Apple clarified on its website that it “has never created a backdoor or master key to any of our products or services.” The company added, “We have also never allowed any government direct access to Apple servers. And we never will.”