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Thu 11 July 2024:

‘The government of India brags on international platforms that India is the mother of democracies. But his government chose to target a young woman only because of her politics.’

New Delhi: A policy activist and the daughter of an opposition politician have received messages by Apple, alerting them of the possibility of having been targeted by a Pegasus-like spyware.

Samruddha Bharat Foundation director Pushparaj Deshpande and People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter Iltija both noted on X on July 10 that they had received text messages from Apple a day ago.

Both have suspected that the spyware in question is Pegasus, which is manufactured by the Israeli cyber-weapons company NSO Group, which claims it only does business with “vetted governments” around the world.




Both texts are worded the same and are from [email protected]. “ALERT: Apple detected a targeted mercenary spyware attack against your iPhone. Apple detected that you are being targeted by a mercenary spyware attack that is trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associate..,” it said.

According to Apple, such threat notifications are high-confidence alerts that a user has been individually targeted by a mercenary spyware attack which are “exceptionally well funded and they evolve over time.” The company has been sending these alerts to the targeted individuals since 2021.

“Apple relies solely on internal threat-intelligence information and investigations to detect such attacks. We are unable to provide information about what causes us to issue threat notifications, as that may help mercenary spyware attackers adapt their behaviour to evade detection in the future,” the company says on its website.

Pushparaj Deshpande

“I received a text message and an email from Apple yesterday evening, alerting me that my phone was a possible target of a spyware like Pegasus. Apple also gave a bunch of instructions to secure my phone, and offered help to guide me through the process. I have also sought help from people who have faced similar cyber attacks in the past,” Pushparaj Deshpande told The Wire.

On being asked why he could have been a possible target of surveillance, he said, “Media reports have said that Pegasus can only be used by state actors. If that is true, I can only speculate that targeting me could be a consequence of my persistent efforts as the director of Samruddha Bharat Foundation to programmatically further constitutional values in our country.”

“Earlier non-state actors like OpIndia used to target me, but now it seems state actors have also begun to track me,” Deshpande said, adding that “the Modi government does not appear to have taken any lessons from the 2024 Lok Sabha mandate and continues to escalate its attacks on civil society and critics.

Late last year, several Indian opposition leaders and journalists received notifications from Apple warning them that their phones could have been targeted by “state-sponsored attackers”. The message read: “Apple believes you are being targeted by state-sponsored attackers who are trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with your Apple ID.”

At least 20 people – including Congress leaders Shahi Tharoor and Supriya Shrinate, Trinamool Congress’s Mahua Moitra, Priyanka Chaturvedi of Shiv Sena (UBT), and Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM – had said that they had received this alert.

Iltija Mufti

This is the second time that someone close to Mehbooba has been targeted using the spyware. In 2021, The Wire learned that a close relative of the PDP chief had also been targeted using Pegasus.

Tagging the offices of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the union home minister Amit Shah, Iltija wrote of the attack on X.

Holding the union government responsible for the attack, Iltija said that she was “unsettled” by the violation of her private space by the use of a spyware that has been deployed to target political dissidents, prominent journalists, leading rights campaigners among others across the world.

“It is shocking that the government of India chose to target a young woman with one of the costliest spywares because of her ideology. I am in politics and I understand that we live in a democracy. If my detractors want to fight me, they should do so politically. Why make it personal,” she told The Wire.  

Iltija added: “The government of India brags on international platforms that India is the mother of democracies. But his government chose to target a young woman only because of her politics. I am exploring legal options but honestly I have little hope, given that the union government has stonewalled the Supreme Court-monitored probe into the use of Pegasus spyware in India.”

Iltija also shared an email that she received from Apple with The Wire. “This attack is likely targeting you specifically because of who you are or what you do. Although it is never possible to achieve absolute certainty when detecting such attacks, Apple has high confidence in this warning – please take it seriously,” the email sent around 9:30 pm on Tuesday, noted.

In Kashmir, a number of journalists and a prominent civil society activist critical of official policy towards J&K among more than two dozen people were selected as potential targets of intrusive surveillance between 2017 and mid-2019 by an as yet unidentified government agency that is also believed to be a client of the NSO Group.

The names of key Hurriyat leaders, politicians, human rights activists, journalists and business persons from Kashmir figured in the snoop dragnet, according to leaked records reviewed by The Wire.


Governments around the world have reportedly deployed this spyware to remotely control smartphones of their critics and all their contents and functions. This means that all messages, even encrypted ones, become visible to the intruder, and the microphone and camera is also remotely activated to record and relay private conversations and meetings.

In 2021, The Wire was part of an investigation by 80 journalists from 16 international news organisations, the French media non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International which looked into the use of spyware in India.

The investigation found that the phones of The Wire’s founding editors Siddharth Varadarajan and M.K. Venu among some government ministers, opposition and minority leaders and Supreme Court judges among a slew of prominent personalities were infected by the Pegasus spyware.

The revelation had prompted the apex court to set up a three-member committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge R.V. Raveendran to investigate the alleged misuse of the spyware. The committee submitted its report in August 2022 with the top court criticising the union government led by Modi for refusing to cooperate in the proceedings.








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