Russia has banned government employees from using Apple products for work purposes over concerns the devices are being used for spying purposes, according to the FT.
This follows a claim on June 1 by Russia’s FSB that Apple worked with the US National Security Agency (NSA) to compromise thousands of Apple devices as part of an intelligence operation.
“We have never worked with any government to insert a backdoor into any Apple product and never will,” Apple said in a statement released at the time. The company has been approached for additional comment.
The FSB has not presented any evidence Apple devices have been used for spying.
Russia’s ban covers all officials and state employees, and bars them from using Apple devices including iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks for any work duties. However, in some cases, those affected are still permitted to use iPhones and iPads in a personal capacity.
“The FSB has long been concerned about the use of iPhones for professional contacts, but the presidential administration and other officials opposed [restrictions] simply because they liked iPhones,” says Russian investigative journalist and security services expert Andrey Soldatov, talking to the FT.
Apple stopped selling its products in Russia at the start go March 2022, shortly after the country invaded Ukraine.
How secure are iPhones?
Apple is so averse to the idea of working a backdoor into its products that it ended up in court in the US, pitted against the FBI in 2016. This followed Apple’s refusal to forcibly unlock the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.
The FBI eventually gained entry to the phone, but without Apple’s help. It enlisted the services of Australian security consultancy Azimuth Security, which found an exploit that allowed unlimited password attempts without the phone formatting itself.
However, that phone ran iOS 9, introduced in 2015. Today’s iPhones run iOS 16, and Apple has made significant improvements to device security over the past eight years.
The importance of encryption
The UK Government’s Online Safety Bill could potentially undermine such efforts, and open up apps and devices to more realistic claims of surveillance of the kind Russia has made. The bill mandates the ability for Ofcom to scan the contents of messages, which would require a back door for end-to-end encryption.
“End-to-end encryption is a critical capability that protects the privacy of journalists, human rights activists, and diplomats,” Apple wrote in a statement published by the BBC.
“It also helps everyday citizens defend themselves from surveillance, identity theft, fraud, and data breaches. The Online Safety Bill poses a serious threat to this protection, and could put UK citizens at greater risk.”
Data on iPhones and iPads is also encrypted as standard, which is why it cannot simply be pulled off such devices, even if their storage chips are removed and analysed. Financial Times