Apple removes “state-sponsored” from spyware mail sent to users

Alex Omenye
Alex Omenye

Apple has alerted its users in India and 91 other countries about a potential “mercenary spyware attack,” omitting the term “state-sponsored” used in previous alerts referring to such malicious activities.

In a notification email, Apple disclosed that attackers attempted to “remotely compromise the iPhone.”

Previously, Apple had stated on its website that its threat notifications aimed to inform and aid users potentially targeted by “state-sponsored attackers.” However, its latest update, posted on Wednesday, clarified that the notifications assist users “who might have been individually targeted by mercenary spyware attacks.”

The company acknowledged that such attacks historically had ties to state actors, including private firms developing mercenary spyware, like the Pegasus spyware created by the Israeli company NSO Group.

The decision to remove the term “state-sponsored” from its threat notifications description follows pressure from the Indian government, which objected to linking breaches to state actors, according to a source familiar with the matter.

In October, after Apple’s warnings of “state-sponsored” attacks, Indian opposition politicians accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of attempting to hack into their mobile phones.

Before issuing the latest alerts, Apple engaged in extensive discussions with Indian officials, the source stated. It remains unclear if other governments expressed similar concerns.

Mercenary spyware attacks are rare and significantly more sophisticated than standard cybercriminal activity or malware, the notification email emphasized.

Since 2021, Apple has sent such threat notifications multiple times a year, reaching users in over 150 countries to date, according to the email.

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