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6th Mar 2021

Brussels unfazed by iPhone security scare

  • The iPhone: used by around 2,500 commission staff (Photo: Robert Scoble)

The European Commission has said it has full confidence in its security set-up despite a scare about the vulnerability of iPhones, used by thousands of commission staff.

"We choose our systems and hardware based on a number of criteria, including security. We have complete confidence in the security measures we take," commission spokesman Michael Mann told EUobserver on Thursday (5 August), in reaction to a German warning about the Apple phones.

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Berlin's Federal Office for Information Security in a statement on Wednesday said that iPhones using the 3.1.2 to 4.0.1 versions of Apple's iOS software are open to attacks by hackers.

"Possible attack scenarios for cyber-criminals include the reading of confidential data (passwords, calendar, e-mail content, SMS, contacts), access to built-in cameras, tapping the phone and the GPS location of the user," it said. "It has to be expected that hackers will soon use the weak spots for attacks."

Users opening PDF files or hyperlinks in emails or Twitter messages are especially open to intrusion, it added.

A hacker using the pseudonym Comex had a few days earlier in internet forums alerted iPhone users to the problem. Apple is currently working on a software "patch" to close the loophole, but it is unclear when the patch will come out.

The commission's Mr Mann said that around 2,500 staff currently use iPhones following a 2008 evaluation of cost and security criteria, which saw the EU executive reject the Blackberry device popular among the business community.

Some commission staff dealing with foreign relations have security clearance to read classified files, deemed to pose a "grave risk" to EU interests or to the interests of individual member states if they got into the wrong hands. The commission's competition department also handles commercially-sensitive information, which could harm the interests of major corporations if intercepted.

Existing security protocols prevent encrypted messages from being opened on portable devices, among other measures.

A special working group composed of selected EU member states' intelligence officers is currently working on security systems for the European External Action Service (EEAS), a new EU institution due to be launched in December.

The group is paying special attention to portable devices, such as mobile phones, laptops and memory sticks, amid concerns the EEAS will become a target for Russian, Chinese and private commercial interests, a contact in the working party told this website.

"If the EEAS becomes a foreign and security policy hub we can be confident it will be a target for hostile intelligence services. The biggest risk of attacks on IT systems will be from Russia and China," the source said.

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