British politicians have reportedly been banned from wearing Apple Watches during official cabinet meetings amid rising fears that foreign hackers may compromise the devices to snoop on sensitive conversations.
Under UK prime minister Theresa May, elected ministers have been informed that – like mobile phones – the high-end smartwatches are now considered a security risk. One inside source told The Telegraph: "The Russians are trying to hack everything."
In David Cameron's previous administration, several cabinet ministers were seen brandishing smartwatches – including former justice secretary Michael Gove. In one embarrassing incident while he was chief whip, his Pebble device disrupted cabinet proceedings after a clip of a Beyoncé song played out loud.
Yet the latest cybersecurity fears come amid a rising tension in the global political system after major security breaches at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) back in June – both blamed on Kremlin-linked adversaries.
Nation state cyberattacks have dominated the headlines ever since, with WikiLeaks becoming embroiled in the scandal by releasing nearly 20,000 internal DNC emails. This resulted in a number of high-profile resignations from the group including its chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
In a landmark statement released on 7 October, the US intelligence community formally accused Russia of orchestrated the hacks. "We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorised these activities," it said.
The UK is not alone in voicing such concerns. It has also been confirmed by Alastair MacGibbon, cyber advisor for Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, that smartwatches have been banned from Australian cabinet meetings.
"In a world in which it is necessary for government to have conversations that truly have no electronics in the room." MacGibbon said. "There are going to be more and more items that will have to be locked away in cabinets."
The UK government declined to comment on the story. "We don't routinely provide details on Cabinet procedures," a spokesperson told IBTimes UK in a statement.