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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 23 July 2024

Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter gets Apple alert about Pegasus spyware attack on her iPhone

The alert to Iltija Mufti comes at a time Jammu and Kashmir is readying for its first Assembly election since the abrogation of Article 370.

Arnab Ganguly Published 10.07.24, 05:12 PM
Iltija Mufti

Iltija Mufti X/@IltijaMufti_

Iltija Mufti, daughter of Mehbooba Mufti who is also the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister’s media adviser, on Wednesday received an alert from Apple about a “targeted mercenary spyware attack” on her iPhone.

The alert comes at a time Jammu and Kashmir is readying for its first Assembly election since the abrogation of Article 370.

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“Got an Apple alert that my phone’s been hacked by Pegasus which GoI has admittedly procured and weaponized to harass critics and political opponents. BJP shamelessly snoops on women only because we refuse to toe their line how low will you stoop,” Mufti wrote on her X (formerly Twitter) handle.

She tagged the Prime Minister’s Office and the Union home ministry handles in her post.

Talking to The Telegraph Online from Kashmir, Iltija said she was feeling a little unsettled at the thought of being possibly the first person from the state to have received such an alert.

“I am unsettled and a little disturbed. Our phones are our political, personal and private space. It feels like a serious violation of my private space,” she said. “Though given this government’s record of snooping on women, I am not the least bit surprised.”

Wednesday’s alert sent to her – which The Telegraph Online has seen – was one among similar alerts sent to targeted users in 98 countries. Till date, according to Apple, they have notified targeted users in 150 countries.

The email alert sent from Apple said: “Apple detected that you are being targeted by a mercenary spyware attack that is trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with your Apple ID. This attack is likely targeting you specifically because of who you are or what you do. Although it’s never possible to achieve absolute certainty when detecting such attacks, Apple has high confidence in this warning — please take it seriously.”

The email also states that, mercenary spyware attacks such as those using Pegasus from the NSO group are “exceptionally rare and vastly more sophisticated than regular cybercriminal activity of consumer malware. These attacks cost millions of dollars and are individually deployed against a very small number of people, but the targeting is ongoing and global”.

Iltija said she was consulting cybercrime experts.

“Problem is that Apple only issued a warning, but the extent of the damage caused is not revealed,” she said. “I have been told that my phone and email both would have to be examined. I am quite certain it is the government which is involved because as Apple itself has said, such spyware are vastly expensive.”

In the email, Apple clarified: “We are unable to provide more information about what caused us to send you this notification, as that may help mercenary spyware attackers adapt their behavior to evade detection in the future.”

The company has suggested that she enable lockdown mode on her phone immediately and then update her phone to the latest software version.

If these attacks were successful in compromising her iPhone, they may have stolen her credentials for other services, the email added.

“If your device is compromised by a targeted mercenary spyware attack, the attacker may be able to remotely access your sensitive data, communications, or even the camera and microphone,” Apple said in the email.

“These attacks are very well funded and are constantly evolving. Some mercenary spyware attacks require no interaction from you, and others rely on tricking you into clicking a malicious link or opening an attachment in an email, SMS, or other message. These attempts can be quite convincing, ranging from fake package-tracking updates to custom-crafted, emotional appeals claiming a named family member is in danger. Be cautious with all links you receive, and don’t open any links or attachments from unexpected or unknown senders.”

In September last year, the Supreme Court had said that the committee it had appointed to probe allegations of unauthorised surveillance of citizens through the Pegasus spyware had said that the “government has not cooperated fully” with the investigation.

An expert committee set up by the apex court in 2022 had detected malware found in five of the 29 phones that were examined, though no conclusive evidence of Pegasus spyware being used could be established.

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