Apple on Thursday sent a fresh round of threat notifications to some of its users in India, along with 91 other countries, warning them that their iPhone could have been potentially attacked by mercenary spyware, including Israel’s Pegasus spyware. 

This time around, Apple did not attribute the attack to any entity. Last year, in October, several Indian journalists and opposition politicians received a warning from the company of a “potential State-sponsored attack.” Recipients included Congress’ Shashi Tharoor, TMC’s Mahua Moitra, and Anand Mangale, regional editor, South Asia, OCCRP.

Apple’s warning

On Thursday morning, Apple dispatched an email notification cautioning the user about a potential “mercenary spyware attack” aimed at compromising iPhones remotely. 

“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 added.

Apple added that mercenary spyware attacks, such as those from Pegasus from the NSO Group in Israel, are extremely rare and vastly superior to typical cybercriminal activities. 

So far, it is not completely clear how many Indians received this notification from Apple. 

While it is unclear who is conducting this attack using “mercenary spyware,” a top source close to Apple had told businessline in a previous report that usually State actors are the only entities with the financial backing to sponsor such sophisticated attacks.

Since last October, when Apple’s threat notifications to the top Indian opposition about a “potential State-sponsored attack” landed the company in hot water with the BJP government, Apple, as a policy, seems to have dropped the word “State-sponsored” from its notification. 

Apple posted its latest update on the website on Wednesday, stating that the threat notifications were designed to help users “who might have been individually targeted by mercenary spyware attacks.”

Israeli-backed Pegasus, which was an example that Apple cited as one of the mercenary spyware behind the attack, has routinely been used by state actors for surveillance and cybercrime against activists and opposition politicians. 

In 2021, the Pegasus Project revealed that the Indian government had used this spyware against opposition leaders, journalists, members of the judiciary, the Electoral Commission, and activists.