Ex-J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter says she received spyware threat notification | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Ex-J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter says she received spyware threat notification

Jul 10, 2024 05:21 PM IST

Iltija Mufti criticised the government for using spyware to surveil political opponents and said she is entitled to the right to privacy

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter, Iltija Mufti, on Wednesday said that she received a threat notification from Apple informing her that she was being targeted with spyware attempting to compromise the iPhone associated with her Apple ID. She shared on X screenshots of the alert sent to users in 98 countries. These alerts are sent to targeted users quarterly and the last tranche was sent in April.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter, Iltija Mufti. (X)
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter, Iltija Mufti. (X)

Iltija Mufti told HT that she received the alert from Apple both via iMessage and email. She said neither her mother nor people in her political circles had received this alert as of now.

“In our political circles, I seem to be the only one who has got this alert. I am not that politically active so I do not understand. I have been vociferously criticising this government but I do not know how that merits this response.”

Iltija Mufti criticised the government for using spyware to surveil political opponents. “As a citizen of India, I am entitled to the right to privacy in my life. This is a tactic to browbeat us into silence because everybody knows that [Mehbooba] Mufti and I have been criticising this government’s policies about taking statehood away from Jammu and Kashmir. They should fight politically instead of resorting to illegal tactics such as these. Am I criminal? Am I a terrorist?”

Iltija Mufti said this was a complete breach of privacy. “This government has procured this expensive spyware from NSO Group that can only be sold to governments. Why are they snooping on me? I am a private citizen. Even if I were a politician, this is not the way. They have a dismal track record of spying on women, including [on Trinamool Congress members of Parliament] Sagarika Ghose and Mahua Moitra. Is there something illegal that I have done that my calls are being intercepted, and the phone is being hacked into?”

Iltija Mufti said she has turned on Lockdown Mode as per Apple’s advice. The mode allows the disabling of functions such as FaceTime calls from unknown numbers, and the opening of attachments in iMessage to reduce the vectors through which malware can be sent. Iltija Mufti said that this had slowed her phone down significantly. “What is worrying for me is that I do not know the extent to which my phone is compromised. ... Pegasus-like spyware has been used. ... It is freaking me out a little because your phone becomes a bug with such software. I am trying to get in touch with cyber experts.”

The threat notification until April directed users to Access Now’s helpline in the threat notification. In April, the link was moved to Apple’s support page. Iltija Mufti said she learnt about it from a friend. “Access Now helpline does not help....”

In April, Apple changed the language of its threat notifications to inform targeted users that they may have been individually targeted using mercenary spyware. Its notification system introduced in November 2021 was initially used to attribute the attempts to compromise devices to state-sponsored attackers.

This system was launched after Apple sued the NSO Group, the Israeli maker of Pegasus, in the same month in the wake of the second bout of Pegasus-related exposures in July 2021. These threat notifications are sent to potentially affected users quarterly.

Since the system was launched in November 2021, Apple has sent threat notifications to users in 152 countries. HT has reached out to Apple about the number of users in India who got the alert this time. There was no immediate response.

Pushparaj Deshpande, the founder of Samrudh Bharat Foundation, who wrote a book on Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, also said that he got the threat notification on Tuesday. He has worked with the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies and the Indian National Congress.

“Countless problems facing India which GoI should be redressing. Instead it’s more focused in deploying #Pegasus to scare & suppress. Let PM @narendramodi & HM @AmitShah do their worst. We shall prevail ✊🏻!” he wrote on X.

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