At least 39 iPhone and iPad apps available in Apple’s official App Store have been infected by malicious code introduced by Chinese hackers.
The malware, dubbed XCodeGhost and first reported by Palo Alto Networks last week, has been injected into several popular applications which could possibly affect millions of users.
It’s the first major breach of the App Store, which has been deemed relatively safe compared to Google’s more open Android Google Play store due to Apple's rigorous app submission review practice.
The hackers managed to circumvent the review process by infecting the apps through malicious code added into a fake version of Apple’s integrated development environment, Xcode, which is available to developers looking to create apps for iOS.
Although developers should be downloading XCode directly from Apple, the toolset is frequently available through third-party sites. It was through these third-party sites that the hackers managed to introduce changes into the code, enabling them to inject malware into the applications without the developers knowing.
The infected applications are reportedly able to search for specific data about the device and look for the credentials to access iCloud.
WinZip, Pocket Scanner, WeChat and PDF Reader have been named among the infected applications.
WeChat, the most popular among the infected apps has about 100 million users. Tencent, the company behind the app, said in a statement they have already released a new clean version of the app, urging the users to update immediately.
"You're only as strong as your weakest link. Here we have the walled garden of iTunes being toppled by a third-party use of developer software package being distributed out of China,” said Gavin Reid, VP of threat intelligence at Lancope.
“The fix for this is better care from the application developers (to security) and better verification from Apple."
Palo Alto Networks who discovered the malware said it was cooperating with Apple to fix the issue and urged all iOS developers to take necessary action.