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Apple App Store hit by huge malware attack

Apple gadgets have always had a reputation for being very secure out of the box. In fact, up until a few years ago, it didn't recommend that its Mac users run security software. Then its products got more popular and everything changed.

Hackers started to take a good long look at Apple and found security flaws to exploit. However, even with Macs suddenly in need of security software, Apple's tight controls has kept its iPhone and iPad fairly safe. In fact, there have only ever been five malicious apps found in the Apple App Store ... until now.

Over the weekend, Apple had to remove hundreds of legitimate apps from the store because they contained hidden malicious code called XcodeGhost. Security researches say it doesn't look like XcodeGhost could actually do much, but the fact that it got in, and how it got in, is worrying.

Any developers writing apps for Apple products have to use a program called Xcode. It turns out that a lot of app developers got tired of waiting to download it from Apple's servers, and downloaded a copy from servers in China.

The copy from China, however, had been tweaked to insert malicious code into any app created with it. However, because they were legitimate developers, and they had created their app with "Xcode," the apps were able to get into the store.

Many of these apps are Chinese-specific apps, such as Didi Kuaidi, which is the Chinese equivalent of Lyft. However, Apple isn't releasing a full list of the affected apps, so its impossible to know what the full risk is.

One way you might be able to find out is to check the App Store for each of the apps you've downloaded. Any of the apps that aren't listed were probably affected. Some companies are also making their own lists.

Palo Alto Networks has released a very partial list of apps (via Business Insider):

WeChat
Angry Birds 2
NetEase
Micro Channel
IFlyTek input
Railway 12306 (the only official app used for buying train tickets in China)
The Kitchen
Card Safe
CITIC Bank move card space
China Unicom Mobile Office
High German map
Jane book
Eyes Wide
Lifesmart
Mara Mara
Medicine to force
Himalayan
Pocket billing
Flush
Quick asked the doctor
Lazy weekend
Microblogging camera
Watercress reading
CamScanner
CamCard (a very popular business-card reader)
SegmentFault
Stocks open class
Hot stock market
Three new board
The driver drops
OPlayer
Telephone attribution assistant
Marital bed
Poor tour
I called MT
I called MT 2
Freedom Battle

Fortunately, Apple is working with developers to recompile their apps with the correct version of Xcode and re-upload the apps. So, if your apps get updated in the next few days, that should also take care of any worries.

While this particular incident was scary, it probably won't end up being a big deal for the average Apple user in terms of data loss. However, it does show hackers a new way to attack Apple gadgets through app developers.

Going forward it's going to be even more important to research an app before you install it. Learn what steps you already have to take to make sure apps are compromising your privacy.

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Source: Reuters
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