Indian government pressed Apple to soften hacking warning: Report

The Indian government privately pressed Apple officials to soften their warnings to Indian journalists and opposition politicians that state-sponsored attackers could be targeting their phones, according to The Washington Post.

Senior officials in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration reportedly called Apple India’s managing director, Virat Bhatia, after reports emerged about the notifications in late October and asked the tech giant to withdraw the warnings.

Soon after, Apple India sent out emails saying the notifications are based on “threat intelligence signals that are often imperfect and incomplete” and began privately asking Indian tech journalists to note the warnings could be false alarms and had been issued to users in 150 countries, the Post reported.

A memo from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) similarly noted users in other countries received notifications and that Apple’s systems contained vulnerabilities, according to the Post. 

Government officials also told Indian news outlets they suspected the warnings were the result of an “algorithmic malfunction,” and the deputy minister of electronics and information technology announced a probe into the notifications.

In November, an Apple security official from outside India reportedly flew to New Delhi to meet with government officials and defended the company’s work, according to the Post.

Many of the people who received Apple’s warnings in late October had been critical of Modi or Indian energy and infrastructure tycoon Gautam Adani and his relationship with the Indian prime minister, the Post noted.

Journalist Anand Mangnale reached out to Adani for comment in late August on a story alleging his associates secretly traded in the Adani Group’s public stock in potential violation of Indian securities law.

Mangnale had Pegasus spyware planted on his phone within 24 hours of the inquiry, according to a forensic analysis of his phone conducted by Amnesty International and reported by the Post.

Mahua Moitra, a former member of Parliament who criticized Modi’s relationship with Adani, also received a warning from Apple in late October. An examination of her phone by the security firm iVerify also indicated it had been hacked, according to the Post.

Moitra was expelled from Parliament in December over allegations that she was receiving bribes from a business rival of Adani’s to ask questions about his relationship with the prime minister. She has denied the accusations.