Masque Attack Switches iOS Apps With Malicious Duplicates

Through a spear-phishing-like “Masque attack,” attackers are creating iOS apps that resemble popular mobile tools in order to lure unsuspecting iPhone users into entering personal information they can capture, according to security researchers.

A report on AppleInsider said FireEye, the firm that discovered the vulnerability, reported the issue to Apple more than three months ago. So far, however, Apple hasn’t provided a way to protect against the Masque attack on the latest versions of its popular mobile operating system.

Ever since websites became widely used, cybercriminals have created phony websites and used email or other tactics — called phishing — to draw in visitors and rob them of their personal data. A Masque attack is similar in that it begins with a text message to smartphone users with links to an iOS app they already use. When users download what they believe is the latest version, a malicious app replaces the original. As The Next Web pointed out, attackers may be able to steal data from consumers without their being any the wiser because the malicious app looks legitimate.

Apple is already reeling from WireLurker, an iOS Trojan that has reportedly affected an untold number of iPhone users. The two threats share one thing in common: the use of “enterprise provision” profiles. Large companies may not want to post internal apps on Apple’s App Store, and enterprise provision profiles allow them a workaround of sorts.

Security experts told Reuters that there is at least one way to cut off a Masque attack at the pass: A pop-up will give users a choice of whether to install any app updates. Not all developers use text messages or push notifications to promote new versions, so if there is reason to believe Apple hasn’t approved an app, it’s obviously best to not install it. Apple uses something called “bundle identifiers” to give such updates the green light.

Meanwhile, according to Forbes, FireEye said the attacks could have some of the most severe repercussions of any iOS threat to date because the malicious app looks genuine. In other words, if users are fooled into updating their Gmail or banking app, copied versions on attackers’ servers could gather all kinds of passwords or financial information.

As an analysis on Mashable suggested, iPhone users’ best bet to avoid the worst is to check with their IT department if they receive any unexpected app updates that don’t come through Apple’s App Store. In the meantime, many enterprise CISOs are undoubtedly waiting to hear what their companies can do to stem the increasing tide of iOS attacks.

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Shane Schick

Writer & Editor

Shane Schick is a writer, editor and speaker who focuses on how information technology creates business value. He lives...