Internet & Tech

Ghost protocol

Apple gets hacked in China

iPhone 6

One hack of a problem

The bubonic plague, SARS and various forms of bird flu are believed to have come from China.

Last week, the country added to its virus tally – this time digitally – when a Chinese hacker was able to embed a virus that caused the first major security breach of Apple’s firmware.

As National Business Day reports, the breach occurred because a number of Chinese app developers had been routinely bypassing Apple’s US servers to download Xcode, the software they need to create iOS and Mac software. Instead they had been using faster local servers dubbed Black Apples.

One server became infected with a modified version of Xcode that transferred phishing ads to infected apps. According to, the first person to analyse the malware was Alibaba’s head of mobile security Zheng Mi. He was alerted to the problem by a posting on a local iOS forum.

He called the malware XcodeGhost and told the website how ingenious it was. “If you’ve got a dirty cooking pot then all the dishes served from it are going to have problems as well,” he explained.

The as yet unidentified hackers may have been inspired by America’s CIA. The Snowden leaks revealed how the US spy agency spent years trying to work out how to penetrate Apple’s encrypted firmware so it could gain access to computer data. One of its ideas involved the creation of a modified version of Xcode, which could be slipped into the development community and then inject its malware into apps.

Apple has not released any figures for how many apps were infected, but some tech websites have said the total could top 4,000. Those that have been publicly named include a number of China’s most popular apps encompassing messaging service WeChat, Uber rival Didi Kuaidi, Baidu Music, Netease and Railway 12306, the country’s official train ticketing agency.

What Apple founder Steve Jobs would have made of the breach is easy to guess, given his famed temper. But according to Tencent Technologies this wouldn’t be his only source of irritation. It argues that CEO Tim Cook is no longer acting as a trustee of Job’s design legacy, citing as an example the company’s recent decision to release a stylus.

Jobs hated the idea of a stylus, with Tencent saying that he would be anything but impressed by Cook’s newly branded Apple Pencil. (CNN reports Jobs once said “God gave us 10 styluses. Let’s not invent another.”) The new $99 Pencil can be used with Apple’s latest iPad Pro, a device that’s targeted more at the workplace than the home.

Social media users were quick to sharpen their jokes. One tweeted, “ All I need now is my Apple pencil case and ruler. Then my stationery dreams will be complete.”

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