Thousands of top Russian officials and state employees have reportedly been banned from using iPhones and other Apple products over concerns they could serve as surreptitious spying tools for Western intelligence agencies. It looks like top government officials in Russia are about to start receiving way more green text messages.Share
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Russia’s trade minister, according to a Financial Times report, said the new ban will take effect Monday, July 17. The move affects a variety of Apple products from iPhones, iPads, and laptops, and builds off of similar restrictions already put in place by the digital development ministry and state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec. Kremlin officials also advised staff working on Vladimir Putin’s 2024 presidential re-election campaign against using a variety of US-developed smartphones over similar espionage conveners earlier this year.
Apple did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
The latest ban will reportedly focus mainly on emailed correspondences related to work activities, which means officials could continue employing the devices for personal use. Those officials and staff, according to the Times, may wind up double-fisting multiple phones during daily routines simply to abide by the new rules. Others, looking to avoid the hassle altogether, could switch to a suite of inferior government-approved devices running on the Russian-made Aurora operating system.
“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,” Russian security and intelligence services expert Andrey Soldatov told the Financial Times.
Russian intelligence officials last month accused the US National Security Agency of hacking into thousands of Russian-owned iPhones and targeting the phones of foreign diplomats based in Russia. Apple, FSB officials allege, provides US intelligence agencies with a “wide range of opportunities to monitor any persons of interest.” To be clear, Russian officials still haven’t provided any clear evidence proving the alleged US conspiracy. Apple has also publicly denied the claims and recently told the Times it “has never worked with any government to build a backdoor into any Apple product, and never will.” The NSA did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
For now, the collective Apple bans won’t prevent average, non-government consumers from purchasing an iPhone. Apple suspended all product sales to the country last year following its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, but intrepid buyers have found ways to import the devices from other countries. Still, Russian officials do have longer-term plans to lessen their dependence on foreign devices in the future. Last year, Putin signed an executive order that bans government bodies and customers from using foreign software when working on “significant critical information infrastructure sites.”