iDevice gizmo-snatcher Oleg... you must be taking the Pliss
High profile attacker couldn't scam your grandma
Owning iCloud accounts probably would be child's play for a hacker with a list of user names in hand, with lucrative results. Yet the crim who locked down antipodean iPhones appears to have waltzed through accounts by the dozen - with nothing to show for his efforts.
To be clear, the method used in the Oleg Pliss ransom attacks isn't, well, clear. Apple's Wall of Silence™ was breached only by a statement reissuing remediation tips and a claim its infrastructure wasn't popped.
The information void has been filled entirely by speculations from security bods.
It looks most likely that the attackers locked down Apple fondleslabs and Macs using the normally useful iCloud "Find My iPhone" feature.
One reason that attack vector may be feasible is that Apple doesn't rate limit password guesses against iCloud accounts, opening it up to brute force attacks.
With knowledge of this, Oleg could have stolen a list of iCloud user names from some security sloppy third party and set a script to brute force its way into poorly secured Apple accounts.
If Apple applied rate limiters, any Oleg bot would be hindered or, with a little more security smarts, struck dead.
Once inside iCloud, Oleg's script would have activated the lock iDevice feature and set their shonky ransom note to display in place of what would normally be a request for samaritans to phone in found devices.
That's where Oleg's ingenuity appeared to die a bloody death. The hundreds or thousands of Australian and now American Apple geeks struck by Oleg were able to simply wipe their devices and continue their day.
Those with iDevice backups made through iTunes - likely the majority of users - would simply click the restore button. Others would be forced into a basic factory reset.
All of which raises a different question: why is the locking function so easily thwarted?
In the end, nobody paid poor Oleg's ransom. Indeed nobody could; the reckless reprobate didn't even register the PayPal email address where a series of ransom demands were to be paid (it's now been locked down to stop opportunists cashing in).
Some suckers tried to stump up, but the money bounced.
Often the simplest explanation is the right one, and it seems the perennial problem of poor password selection and reuse, along with the risk inherited by poorly secured third parties may be on the money.
While Vulture South awaits a green light for a run-down of Apple's inside intelligence, one thing is clear; Oleg Pliss is taking the piss. ®