Once regarded as almost immune to cyber-attacks and hacking, Apple users are coming under increasing pressure from cybercriminals targeting their Apple IDs and financial credentials.
Kaspersky Lab has published a phishing report that analyses the dramatic increase of cybercriminal campaigns designed to steal users’ Apple IDs and account information by creating fraudulent phishing sites that try to imitate the official apple.com site.
Cybercriminals are using the fake Apple sites to try and trick users into submitting their Apple ID credentials, which would enable the criminals to steal the account login and access the victim’s personal data, information and credit card numbers stored on their iCloud and iTunes accounts.
From January 2012 through May 2013, the Kaspersky Security Network (KSN) has detected an average of 200 000 attempts per day of users trying to access the phishing sites, which were triggered each time a user running Kaspersky Lab’s products was directed to one of the fraudulent sites.
The increase in average detections is a marked increase compared to 2011, which averaged only 1 000 detections per day. Kaspersky Lab’s Web antivirus module successfully detected and prevented its users from accessing the sites; however, the increase in detections shows how these scams are becoming more commonly used by cybercriminals for phishing campaigns.
Kaspersky Lab’s experts analysed the cybercriminals’ behaviour and patterns on a daily and monthly basis, noticing that fluctuations and increases in phishing attempts often coincided with large events from Apple. For example, on 6 December 2012, immediately following the opening of iTunes stores in India, Turkey, Russia, South Africa and an additional 52 countries, Kaspersky Lab detected an all-time record of more than 900 000 phishing attempts directing to fake Apple sites in a single day.
The main distribution method used by cybercriminals to direct users to the fraudulent Apple sites are predominantly phishing emails posing as Apple Support with fake alias names in the “Sender” field, such as email@example.com. The messages would typically request users to verify their account by clicking on a link and entering their Apple ID information. These emails are deceptively clever and professionally designed in order to make them appear authentic, including the use of Apple’s logo and presenting the message with similar formatting, colouring and style that Apple uses.
Another variation of these phishing emails are designed to steal Apple customers’ credit card information. This is done by sending users an email requesting that they verify or update the credit card credentials attached to their Apple IDs, which can be done by clicking on a link in the message. The link directs the user to a phishing site that imitates how Apple requests credit card information from their customers to fool users into inputting their credit card information and other personal information.
One way to distinguish between real websites and counterfeit ones created for phishing purposes is to look at the address bar of the website. While most counterfeit sites have the word “apple.com” as part of their address (URL), the address would not be verified by Apple and would include additional text in the URL.
However, identifying phishing sites becomes harder when users can’t see the full URL address, which is typically the case when iOS users are running Safari on their iPhone or iPad devices. When users click on links from email messages on iOS devices the complete URL address is hidden from them when the page is downloaded and opened through Safari.
Users should verify email address aliases from Apple by checking the original sender address first. On a computer this can be done by mousing over the sender address field, which reveals the sender alias’ true email address. When using a mobile device, users should touch the email alias from the sender, which expands the alias to show the full address of the sender.
To guard against fraud attempts, Apple also provides a two-step authentication process for Apple IDs. This process involves sending a four-digit code to one or more previously selected devices belonging to the user. This serves as an additional verification and prevents undesired changes being made on the “my Apple ID” site or, for example, third-parties making unauthorised purchases using your Apple ID.
Unfortunately, this does not yet prevent cybercriminals from using stolen credit card data. Users should not follow links in questionable emails to access websites. Instead, they should manually enter website addresses into browser windows. Users who still want to use such links should carefully check their content and the address of the website they link to.