Indian opposition MPs accuse government of trying to hack their iPhones

Ruling BJP rejects claims of involvement following Apple notifications of possible ‘state-sponsored’ attacks

At least eight prominent Indian opposition politicians have reported receiving warnings from Apple that “state-sponsored attackers” might have targeted their iPhones, raising concerns about possible digital espionage ahead of next year’s general election.

The newly formed alliance of opposition parties immediately accused the government of spying, an allegation rejected by prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The government promised to investigate to “get to the bottom of these notifications”.

The possible attacks come ahead of a handful of Indian state elections this year and next year’s general election, in which an alliance of opposition parties created in July and known by the acronym India, hope to deny the Hindu nationalist BJP a third term in power.

India’s government has previously been accused of deploying Pegasus spyware developed by Israeli group NSO, triggering a political scandal when the hacking tool was found on the phones of journalists and activists in 2019 and 2021. An Indian supreme court inquiry into the spyware was ultimately inconclusive.


A personal data protection bill passed by India’s parliament in July gives authorities broad powers to bypass privacy safeguards, which critics say legislates “carte blanche” for government surveillance.

“The snooping party first used Pegasus to spy against opposition leaders and other institutions and are now using other tools to continue spying,” said Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the opposition Indian National Congress party. “India cannot be cowed down by such threats.”

Ravi Shankar Prasad, a senior BJP leader and former information technology minister, described opposition claims that the government was responsible for the possible attacks flagged by Apple as “false and baseless”.

Ashwini Vaishnaw, the current information technology minister, promised the government would investigate. “We have also asked Apple to join the investigation with real, accurate information on the alleged state sponsored attacks,” he said in a post on the social media platform X on Tuesday.

Screenshots of the warning that were posted by affected politicians on social media showed it as reading: “Apple believes you are being targeted by state-sponsored attackers.”

“It’s possible that this is a false alarm,” the alert continued, but cautioned: “Please take this warning seriously.”

Apple has issued similar alerts in the past, but privacy experts say such notifications are infrequent.

Apple declined to directly confirm that it sent the warnings and said it did not have any information about being invited to assist in the government’s investigation. In a statement, Apple said it did “not attribute the threat notifications to any specific state-sponsored attacker”.

Prateek Waghre, policy director at the New Delhi-based advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation, said the allegations of government involvement were “concerning”.

“We do want an investigation and transparency from the government about their usage of any spyware tools,” Mr Waghre said. “There needs to be checks and balances, which we don’t believe exist today.”

Opposition politicians who reported the notification on Tuesday included Shashi Tharoor, a prominent Congress member and public intellectual; Raghav Chadha, spokesman for the Aam Aadmi party; and Sitaram Yechury, a senior Communist Party leader.

Several journalists also reported receiving Apple’s notification. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023