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Mobile dev site: We never knew about Facebook, Apple hacks

First read about own role in Wednesday's news

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Mobile developer website iPhoneDevSDK says it was completely unaware of its own involvement in a recent online attack that compromised Macs at Facebook, Apple, and other companies – that is, not until its admins read about it in the tech press on Wednesday morning.

"As the most widely read dedicated iOS developer forum, we're targeted for attacks frequently," iPhoneDevSDK administrator Ian Sefferman wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.

Despite knowing this, however – and despite the fact that the security world has been abuzz about the attack on Facebook and others since February 15 – Sefferman says he first learned about iPhoneDevSDK's involvement in the incident from an article at AllThingsD that morning.

Prior to that, Sefferman says neither Facebook, nor law enforcement, nor any other company had attempted to contact iPhoneDevSDK about the issue.

Upon hearing the news, Sefferman says he immediately got in touch with Facebook to find out what it knew about the attack, and that iPhoneDevSDK has been working with Zuck's security bods ever since.

From what Sefferman has been able to determine on his end, the attackers managed to compromise a single iPhoneDevSDK admin account, which allowed them to inject JavaScript code into the site's templates to trigger the exploit.

To be precise, the JavaScript code targeted a vulnerability in the Java browser plug-in, one of a series of such flaws that have been discovered by security researchers – and, unfortunately, a few miscreants – in recent months.

The iPhoneDevSDK attack was unusual, however, in that it involved malware that specifically targeted OS X. Macs aren't usually singled out for such attacks, owing to Apple's relatively small share of the global PC market.

The fact that Macs were the target in this case suggests that the attackers were aware that iPhoneDevSDK was a site for iOS developers and that they crafted their exploits accordingly. Security firm F-Secure has even suggested that iOS developers were themselves the true targets, and that the attackers were hoping to gain access to their workstations to insert malicious code into their mobile apps.

But if that was the attackers' true aim, how close they came to accomplishing it is not clear. As was the case with Facebook earlier, Sefferman said he believes no user data was compromised, but that iPhoneDevSDK's administrators have reset the password of every account anyway, just to be safe.

Apple and Oracle have also since patched the Java vulnerability that made the Mac exploit possible, though Cupertino's fix lagged somewhat behind Oracle's.

For his part, Sefferman isn't wrong when he says iPhoneDevSDK is a frequent target of attacks. According to the site's forums, the last major incident was as recent as July 2012, and the time before that was in November 2011. In each case, web browsers and search engines flagged the site as a dangerous malware distributor.

Sefferman says these earlier incidents prompted the site to switch from vBulletin forum software to Vanilla Forums, which he claims is much more secure. He says he believes the Vanilla Forums software had nothing to do with the attack that affected Facebook and others; rather, one weak password seems to have been to blame.

"We're still trying to determine the exploit's exact timeline and details, but it appears as though it was ended (by the hacker) on January 30, 2013," Sefferman said, adding that iPhoneDevSDK is still working with Facebook, law enforcement, and "other targeted companies" to track down the culprits.

The Reg has reached out to Facebook to inquire as to why iPhoneDevSDK was not contacted sooner about the issue, but the only response so far has been conspicuous silence. ®

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