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Russia bans officials from using iPhones in U.S. spying row

Moscow, Russia

Russia's Federal Security Service has encouraged thousands of officials in the country to stop using iPhones and Apple products over U.S. surveillance claims, but the officials aren't happy about the order.

Authorities in the country have banned officials and state employees from using Apple hardware, including iPhones and iPads. Ministries and institutions of the government are being prevented from the devices, under continued concern over alleged activities by the U.S. to spy on Russian organizations.

As part of the ban, the trade ministry said it will ban iPhone usage for "work purposes from Monday, reports the Financial Times, while the digital development ministry says it will follow suit.

"Security officials in ministries - these are FSB employees who hold civilian positions such as deputy ministers - announced that iPhones were no longer considered safe and that alternates should be sought, a source close to a government agency told the report.

The FSB and officials "truly believe that Americans can use their equipment for wiretapping," security expert Andrey Soldatov explained. They added that while the FSB has "long been concerned about the use of iPhones for professional contacts," there may be some resistance to the change.

"The presidential administration and other officials opposed [restrictions] simply because they liked iPhones," Soldatov added.

In some cases, ministries apply the restrictions against Apple devices used for official purposes but still permit the use of iPhones and iPads for personal use. A person close to a ministry offered "Everyone complains that it's inconvenient and they have to carry another phone or tablet."

Another cyber security expert, Alexey Lukatsky, added that officials may not necessarily want to actually switch to using devices running the Russian-produced Aurora operating system. "There were restrictions on the use of work email on devices not certified by [security services] before. But most officials did not comply," Lutatsky explains, before wondering how many "will comply now."

The latest round of restrictions follow after a June 1 announcement by the FSB claiming the U.S. National Security Agency had used backdoor vulnerabilities in the iPhone, with Apple supposedly involved in the creation of the backdoors.

Apple was quick to flat-out deny the FSB's claims, insisting on June 2 that the company has "never worked with any government to insert a backdoor into any Apple product."