The British government has banned its top officials from wearing the Apple Watch during high-level Cabinet meetings over fears the device could be hacked by foreign agents acting against the U.K., the Telegraph reported on Monday.
While some may scoff at the idea of the smartwatch being taken over by hackers, others are likely to look upon it as a perfectly reasonable reaction to a very real threat.
Apple’s smartwatch has a built-in microphone which security officials believe could be hacked to snoop on government meetings. It’s not clear if the ban extends to other makes of smartwatch.
In late 2013, under David Cameron’s premiership, iPhones and iPads were banned from top-level meetings. It was reported at the time that leading government officials were even told to place their mobile devices inside lead-lined, soundproof boxes whenever they were in a confidential meeting.
The decision to ban the Apple Watch was apparently taken by Theresa May and her advisors after she replaced David Cameron as leader over the summer.
One source told the Telegraph that the extra security has been put in place because the Russians “are trying to hack everything.”
Russian and Chinese hackers have been repeatedly accused by Western governments of carrying out cyberattacks on a growing number of institutions and organizations. Just last Friday, for example, the U.S. Intelligence Community said it believes hackers with links to the Russian government have orchestrated several high-profile cyber attacks since 2015.
A joint statement issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said a number of hacks were “consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”
The Russian authorities have always denied any wrongdoing, with the Russian leader Vladimir Putin himself describing claims that his government is behind the cyberattacks as “rubbish.”
Still, banning Apple’s smartwatch from U.K. Cabinet meetings may puzzle some as the device has reduced functionality when it’s away from its paired iPhone, though it can still connect to Wi-Fi networks that were previously connected to with Apple’s handset. It seems that the mere existence of a microphone on the watch is enough for the British government to ban the device, the U.K. authorities clearly erring on the side of caution as it seeks to keep its private conversations private.