JAKARTA - On Thursday, June 1, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that it had uncovered a United States spy operation that developed thousands of iPhones using advanced surveillance software.
Kaspersky Lab, which is based in Moscow, said dozens of its employee devices had been infected in the operation.
The FSB, which is the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said in a statement that several thousand Apple Inc's production devices had been infected, including domestic Russian customer devices as well as foreign diplomats based in Russia and the previous Soviet Union.
"The FSB has uncovered intelligence actions from American special services that use Apple mobile devices," the FSB said in a statement.
The FSB said the plan shows "close cooperation" between Apple and the National Security Agency (NSA), the US agency responsible for cryptographic and communications security and intelligence. The FSB provides no evidence that Apple is working together or has awareness of the wiretapping campaign.
In a statement, Apple denied the allegations. "We have never worked with any government to insert a backdoor into any Apple product and will never do so," the company said in a statement. WhileNSA declined to comment.
Kaspersky CEO Eugene Kaspersky said on Twitter that dozens of his employees' phones had been infected in the operation, described by the company as a "very complex and professionally targeted cyberattack" targeting "high and middle-ranking" workers.
Kaspersky researcher Igor Kuznetsov told Reuters that their company independently discovered unnatural traffic on their company's Wi-Fi network around the start of this year. He said Kaspersky had not distributed its findings to the Russian Computer Emergency Response Team until Thursday.
He said he could not comment on Moscow's accusations that Americans were responsible for the hack or that thousands of other people had been targeted.
"It's difficult to associate something with someone is very high," he said.
In a blog post, Kaspersky said the oldest traces of infection found came from 2019. "Until the time of writing in June 2023, attacks were still ongoing," the company said in a statement. Kaspersky added that although their staff were affected, "we are quite sure that Kaspersky is not the main target of this cyberattack."
The FSB said American hackers had compromised diplomats from Israel, Syria, China, and NATO members in a spy campaign in a spy network.
Israeli officials declined to comment. Representatives of China, Syria and NATO were also unable to comment immediately.
According to the 2022 Belter Center Cyber Power Index at Harvard University, the United States is the top cyber power in the world in terms of intent and capability, followed by China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
Both the Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry emphasized the importance of this issue.
"The collection of hidden data is carried out through the vulnerability of US-made mobile phone devices," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"US intelligence services have used information technology companies for decades to collect large-scale data from internet users without their knowledge," the ministry added.
Russian officials said the plan was revealed as part of a joint effort between FSB officers and the Federal Guards Service (FSO), a strong institution that manages the Kremlin's bodyguards and was the ninth KGB Directorate.
Officials in Russia, which Western spies say have built a very sophisticated domestic surveillance structure, have long questioned US technology security.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said all officials in the president's administration knew gadgets like iPhones were "completely transparent."
Earlier this year, the Kremlin instructed officials involved in preparations for Russia's 2024 presidential election to stop using Apple's iPhone due to concerns that the device was vulnerable to Western intelligence agencies, the Kommersant newspaper reported.