Hide your Macs, iPhones and iPads: WireLurker nasty 'heralds new era'

A new era of pain, apparently

The largest-scale attack of its kind on Apple Macs, phones and tablets – and believed the first to maliciously target non-jailbroken iPhones – has been detected. And it's hit thousands and thousands of devices in the wild.

WireLurker infects OS X computers, and lies in wait for USB connections to Apple iPads and iPhones. It then installs malicious software on the iOS devices – software signed with a legit cryptographic certificate, so it's trusted by the gadget.

Victims have been told to warn friends who have plugged their devices into their diseased boxes – WireLurker gets into the Macs if the user runs dodgy programs from an unofficial app store.

Palo Alto Networks Networks researcher Claud Xiao reckons WireLurker "heralds a new era" in Apple malware and was a "new brand of threat."

"WireLurker was used to trojanise (infect) 467 OS X applications on the Maiyadi App Store, a third-party Mac application store in China," Xiao said.

"In the past six months, these 467 infected applications were downloaded over 356,104 times and may have impacted hundreds of thousands of users."

Other strains of Mac malware, which are rare compared to the number targeting Windows, have used WireLurker's tricks before – but never in concert. The LBTM adware threat of 2010 and FindAndCallWorm of 2012 were the only two to have affected non-jailbroken Apple devices.

It applied 2013 research by Mathieu Renard, and work by Billy Lau, with research by Tao Wei in September into mitigations for Apple's rather comprehensive strategy for enterprise provisioning that bypasses Apple's review process.

Armed with this, the malware invoked real-world attacks that worked by infecting a Mac before monitoring for USB-connected iOS devices and then installing apps repacked with infected code.

In a bid to ensure jailbroken phone victims opened apps, WireLurker backed up those already installed on before inserting malicious code into it via the Apple backup service.

The malware was complex, and contained obfuscated code and extensible components. It was regularly updated by command and control protected by custom-made crypto and used this channel to ferry information off about whether a targeted iPhone was jailbroken. Upon infection, it would steal contacts and Apple ID information.

The author, whose intentions were unclear, made an apparent gaffe by embarking on a noisy spree uploading 467 repacked infected Mac apps to the Chinese store. That represented all uploads over a six-week period to 11 June this year.

WireLurker-infected game The Sims 3 was downloaded 42,110 times, close to twice the downloads of International Snooker 2012, which claimed 22,353 victims.

A research paper by Palo Alto Networks is here: WireLurker: A new era in iOS and OS X malware [PDF]. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • North Korea pulled in $400m in cryptocurrency heists last year – report

    Plus: FIFA 22 players lose their identity and Texas gets phony QR codes

    In brief Thieves operating for the North Korean government made off with almost $400m in digicash last year in a concerted attack to steal and launder as much currency as they could.

    A report from blockchain biz Chainalysis found that attackers were going after investment houses and currency exchanges in a bid to purloin funds and send them back to the Glorious Leader's coffers. They then use mixing software to make masses of micropayments to new wallets, before consolidating them all again into a new account and moving the funds.

    Bitcoin used to be a top target but Ether is now the most stolen currency, say the researchers, accounting for 58 per cent of the funds filched. Bitcoin accounted for just 20 per cent, a fall of more than 50 per cent since 2019 - although part of the reason might be that they are now so valuable people are taking more care with them.

    Continue reading
  • Tesla Full Self-Driving videos prompt California's DMV to rethink policy on accidents

    Plus: AI systems can identify different chess players by their moves and more

    In brief California’s Department of Motor Vehicles said it’s “revisiting” its opinion of whether Tesla’s so-called Full Self-Driving feature needs more oversight after a series of videos demonstrate how the technology can be dangerous.

    “Recent software updates, videos showing dangerous use of that technology, open investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the opinions of other experts in this space,” have made the DMV think twice about Tesla, according to a letter sent to California’s Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), chair of the Senate’s transportation committee, and first reported by the LA Times.

    Tesla isn’t required to report the number of crashes to California’s DMV unlike other self-driving car companies like Waymo or Cruise because it operates at lower levels of autonomy and requires human supervision. But that may change after videos like drivers having to take over to avoid accidentally swerving into pedestrians crossing the road or failing to detect a truck in the middle of the road continue circulating.

    Continue reading
  • Alien life on Super-Earth can survive longer than us due to long-lasting protection from cosmic rays

    Laser experiments show their magnetic fields shielding their surfaces from radiation last longer

    Life on Super-Earths may have more time to develop and evolve, thanks to their long-lasting magnetic fields protecting them against harmful cosmic rays, according to new research published in Science.

    Space is a hazardous environment. Streams of charged particles traveling at very close to the speed of light, ejected from stars and distant galaxies, bombard planets. The intense radiation can strip atmospheres and cause oceans on planetary surfaces to dry up over time, leaving them arid and incapable of supporting habitable life. Cosmic rays, however, are deflected away from Earth, however, since it’s shielded by its magnetic field.

    Now, a team of researchers led by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) believe that Super-Earths - planets that are more massive than Earth but less than Neptune - may have magnetic fields too. Their defensive bubbles, in fact, are estimated to stay intact for longer than the one around Earth, meaning life on their surfaces will have more time to develop and survive.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022