A particularly vicious new type of malware allowed thousands of iPhones to be breached last week, in an incident technology experts are calling one of the most frightening ever seen in the Apple universe.
The login credentials and privacy certificates of roughly 225,000 iPhone users across 18 countries were stolen when malware was inadvertently downloaded onto their phones, according to Tech News World.
In an interesting twist, news outlets are reporting that the 225,000 breached iPhones had all been "jailbreaked," or modified by their users in order to allow them to download third-party apps from iTunes or the App Store without paying, Tech News World explained.
The malware, which has been dubbed "KeyRaider," is able to cause a surprising amount of damage to users' phones and payment accounts, according to Unit 42, a division of Palo Alto Networks which first discovered the breach, Tech News World reports.
"KeyRaider hooks into the operating system layer of an iPhone and steals Apple account usernames, passwords and device global unique identifiers by intercepting iTunes traffic on the device, Unit 42 explained," reports Tech News World. "It also steals Apple push notification service certificates and private keys, robs and shares App Store purchasing information, and disables local and remote unlocking functions on iPhones and iPads."
Many iPhone users have already reported suspicious activity believed to be a result of the breach.
"Some victims have reported that their stolen Apple accounts show abnormal app purchasing history, and others state that their phones have been held for ransom," Unit 42 researcher Claud Xiao told Tech News World.
In other words, hackers use the malware to lock the phone, and then charge the owner a "ransom" to restore their access.
Who is responsible? No one is certain yet, but Xiao tells Tech News World whoever the culprits are, they appear to be sharing their ill-gotten gains with a large community of hackers.
"The [stolen information has] been downloaded over 20,000 times, which suggests around 20,000 users are abusing the 225,000 stolen credentials," Xiao told Tech News World.
Unfortunately, as the experts at Inc.com report, this massive hacking incident highlights the risks some users take when they "jailbreak" their phones and attempt to circumvent traditional routes of buying and downloading apps.
"Jailbreaking is analogous to destroying the locks on all the doors in the office because you're tired of not having access to the backdoor ("But it's closer to my car!") whenever you want," Alex Berger, senior product marketing manager at STEALTHbits Technologies, told Inc.com. "Locks exist for a number of reasons, and generally the biggest one is security."
Thankfully, Inc.com explains that iPhone owners who have not attempted to modify or jailbreak their phones can breathe easily, as the KeyRaider malware only appears to have affected modified phones.
The incident has done one noteworthy thing - busted the myth that Apple iPhones are immune to malware.
Experts say they understand why people feel the need to bust through Apple's seemingly overreaching security on its phones, but most say in the end, the added protection from vicious programs like KeyRaider is worth it.
"Jailbreaking sounds like you're breaking out of a cage. That's absolutely right, but the cage is there to protect you," Jonathan Sander, vice president for product strategy at Lieberman Software, told Tech News World. "Without the cage, you allow yourself to get out - but you also invite everyone else to get in."
Tech News World has published instructions for how to tell if your iPhone has the KeyRaider malware on it, and how to protect your phone and accounts from being compromised if you do carry the malware.