Officials in the Russian president’s office were reportedly told to get rid of their Apple devices over cybersecurity concerns
Members of the Russian presidential administration whose jobs focus on domestic policy have been instructed to discard their iPhones by the end of March, the business daily Kommersant reported on Monday. The decision was made due to the risk of Western espionage, the outlet said.
Russian officials will have to “throw away or give to their kids” their devices running the iOS operating system, according to how one source summarized a discussion during a seminar in early March.
Kommersant sources say the final say on the matter and the deadline came directly from Deputy Chief of Staff Sergey Kirienko, who supervises several departments in the presidential office in charge of various aspects of domestic policy. The ban will also affect officials who liaise with regional governments on behalf of the administration, the newspaper reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to either confirm or deny the report, but stressed that officials are not allowed to use smartphones “for work purposes” anyway. Any such device, regardless of its operating system, is too exposed to handle classified information, he said.
Apple prides itself on the increased security achieved due to the strict limitations on what users can do with its products and what programs can run on them. However, the brand’s popularity has also made the devices the target of extensive research into how to hack them.
Some advanced cyberwarfare tools, such as the infamous Israeli Pegasus software, allegedly allow Apple gadgets to be breached without the need for users to be tricked, unlike less sophisticated malware. The Russian ban is reportedly motivated by exactly that consideration, according to Kommersant.
The administration’s employees were told to switch to phones running the Android operating system, Chinese software, or the Russian Aurora system, a source told the newspaper. The domestic system has been in development since 2016 and derives from the Linux-based Sailfish operating system.
Cybersecurity expert Natalya Kaspersky remarked that smartphones “are designed as spy devices” that collect and store information that can be transferred elsewhere. But using electronics less familiar to potential attackers would improve users’ safety, she added.
“The more Russian components a device has, the smaller the risk that information would be leaked to hostile states. In that regard, a domestic OS would be advantageous to a foreign one,” Kaspersky said.
Western states are currently conducting a crackdown on TikTok, a popular video-sharing service owned by a Chinese company. Over the past several weeks, government agencies in several US-allied nations have banned the app from being installed on employees’ devices over alleged cybersecurity risks.