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Apple embarrassed by Russian spy chief demand for iOS source code

Russia has asked Apple to hand over the source code for iOS amid accusations that Apple purposefully included backdoors into its mobile operating system.

The move comes as the US responds to the MH-17 crisis with a fresh round of economic sanctions targeting Russian banks and energy companies, and Russia has responded with sanctions of its own (opens in new tab) against US tech companies.

According to reports, the suggestion came during a meeting between Russian Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov, Peter Engrob Nielsen — Apple's top Russian executive — and SAP managing director Vyacheslav Orekhov.

"Edward Snowden's revelations in 2013 and U.S. intelligence services' public statements about the strengthening of surveillance of Russia in 2014 have raised a serious question of trust in foreign software and hardware," Nikiforov said in a statement.

"Obviously, companies which disclose the source code of their programmes are not hiding anything, but those who do not intend to establish cooperation with Russia on this issue may have undeclared capabilities in their products," he added.

The same proposition was made to German firm SAP, one of the most prominent software consultancies in the world.

Microsoft agreed to a similar proposal in 2010, granting the Russian Federal Security Service (roughly the equivalent of MI6) access to source code for Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft SQL Server.

Since hacker, forensic scientist and author Jonathan Zdziarski revealed a whole raft of backdoors, attack points and surveillance mechanisms built into iOS (opens in new tab) devices, the operating system's location tracking features have been called a "national security concern" by the Chinese state media.

Apple has sternly denied any collusion with intelligence agencies (opens in new tab) to put backdoors into its operating system.

"Apple is deeply committed to protecting the privacy of all our customers," the Cupertino-based company said in a response to the earlier Chinese accusations. "Privacy is built into our products and services from the earliest stages of design. We work tirelessly to deliver the most secure hardware and software in the world."

Paul Cooper
Paul Cooper

Paul has worked as an archivist, editor and journalist, and has a PhD in the cultural and literary significance of ruins. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, The BBC, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and Discover Magazine, and he was previously Staff Writer and Journalist at ITProPortal.