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iDevice ransomware stalks OZ, demands payoff

Fanbois phones, fondleslabs locked, messaged that they've be 'hacked by Oleg Pliss'

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Apple fans across Australia are finding their iPad and iPhones held for ransom by miscreants demanding $50 and more for unlock fee.

The extortionate demands appeared in messages claiming the device had been "hacked by Oleg Pliss" – but it'd be highly unlikely that the cybercrooks behind the scam, which appears to be localised to Australia and (perhaps) New Zealand, are using their real names.

Pad, iPhone, and Mac owners in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, and Victoria have all reported falling victim to the apparently widespread scam, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

The scam bears some resemblance to ransomware hustles that have been thrown against Windows users for years, and more recently have been slung against Android fans. However, security experts reckons that the crooks in this case have broken into Apple profiles associated with affected users rather than doing anything involving malicious code.

"The affected devices aren't infected with malware; instead, it looks as though the attackers have somehow got hold of the victims' iCloud login credentials and locked their devices remotely," said veteran security researcher Paul Ducklin in a post on Sophos's Naked Security blog.

Australian discussion boards are alive with (largely inconclusive) speculation in the wake of the incident. Neither fanbois nor security experts are sure how the wave of attacks might have occurred, even though there's no shortage of potential theories.

Michael Sutton, VP of security research at cloud security firm Zscaler, commented: “While it's not clear how the attacker gained account credentials for the iOS accounts, given the localised nature of the attacks it's likely that this is a case of password reuse as opposed to Apple servers being compromised. It is likely that a third party database was compromised and authentication credentials stolen that are the same credentials used by the owners of the affected iOS devices. Fortunately, this is a situation where Apple can intervene to reset the device and affected users should not pay the ransom being sought.”

Ducklin added: "It smells like stolen or guessed passwords shared with some other account."

If Ducklin is correct, then use of a different, non-trivial password for every site would protect against attack. Use of two factor-authentication, which is offered as an option by Apple, would likewise guard against fraud.

An FAQ on the incident by Mac security experts Intego can be found here. ®

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