On Thursday, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the primary successor to the KGB, announced that it has discovered a purported U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) operation. This operation, according to the FSB, involved the use of previously unidentified malware to exploit undisclosed backdoor access points in Apple's phones.
The FSB report claims that this alleged NSA operation resulted in the infection of several thousand Apple phones, including those of Russian domestic subscribers.
The Russian intelligence agency went further, stating that the targeted phones were not only those of domestic users but also included devices belonging to foreign diplomats stationed in Russia and other countries from the former Soviet Union. The targeted users reportedly also included representatives from NATO member states, Israel, Syria, and China.
In an official statement, the FSB asserted, "The FSB has uncovered an intelligence action of the American special services using Apple mobile devices."
Neither Apple nor the NSA responded to requests for comment outside of typical U.S. business hours.
The FSB's revelation casts a spotlight on the purportedly tight connection between Apple and the NSA. The latter, an American entity, is tasked with overseeing the United States' cryptographic and communication intelligence and security.
In a separate statement, Russia's foreign ministry claimed that this hidden data collection occurred due to software vulnerabilities in American-made mobile phones. The ministry added, "The U.S. intelligence services have been using IT corporations for decades in order to collect large-scale data of Internet users without their knowledge."
As per the Belfer Center Cyber 2022 Power Index from Harvard University, the United States leads the global cybersecurity arena in terms of intent and capability, followed by China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
Last year, after Russia sent troops into Ukraine, U.S. and British intelligence agencies publicly disclosed their discovery of a plan by President Vladimir Putin to launch an invasion. The method of procuring this intelligence remains undisclosed.
For years, Russian officials, who are alleged by Western intelligence to have created an intricate domestic surveillance system, have been skeptical of the security of U.S. technology. Although President Putin does not own a smartphone, according to the Kremlin, he occasionally uses the internet.
Earlier this year, in light of concerns regarding susceptibility to Western intelligence agencies, the Kremlin instructed officials involved in preparations for Russia's 2024 presidential election to cease using Apple iPhones, as reported by the Kommersant newspaper. At a Kremlin-hosted seminar, Sergei Kiriyenko, the first deputy head of the presidential administration, advised officials to switch their phones by April 1, Kommersant reported, quoting anonymous sources.