Tor Project claims 'fake' Tor Browser sat in iOS App Store for months

Team Onion raises a stink over shady app which Apple ignored – until this afternoon


Following months of protests, Apple has apparently removed from its App Store software that claimed to be a Tor-friendly web browser yet was allegedly loaded with adware and spyware.

For the uninitiated, the official Tor Browser is a package containing Firefox that uses the Tor network to bounce connections to websites around the world, hopefully anonymizing the user.

Members of the Tor Project said that a rogue application on the iOS App Store was billing itself as a Tor Browser and serving up ads to users without a license or permission from the group. Numerous attempts to remove the "fake" app were ignored by Apple before the application was made unavailable on Thursday afternoon, US West Coast time, amid growing pressure on Cupertino.

A post to the Tor Project bug-tracking site details the issue. Dated from three months ago, the post seeks the resolution of a phony "Tor Browser" app being offered on the iTunes App Store for iOS devices. The post says of the app, "it's full of adware and spyware. Two users have called to complain. We should have it removed."

Subsequent comments include a link to the app's download page and multiple reviews which noted that it subjected users to advertisements. One post, dated from three months ago, suggests that Apple had responded that it was giving the application developer a chance to defend himself.

The app's entry on the App Store lists the name of a developer who has worked on other legitimate mobile apps, but it is not clear whether this person actually developed the browser or was merely impersonated by another individual who wanted to remain hidden.

As of 1545 Pacific Time, the miscreant app is no longer available through a direct link and does not appear in search results. Earlier in the day, however, both direct links and search results brought up the Tor Browser application in question.

As we have come to expect, Apple did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Instances of malicious apps and unauthorized software being posted to the App Store are relatively rare, particularly in comparison to other mobile app stores. The application process, which includes a strict set of rules and screenings from administrators, has angered some developers whose submissions have been taken down or rejected from the store.

On the other hand, it has proven itself to be (in most cases) a highly effective way of keeping bad actors from targeting iOS devices. ®


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