A hacker group calling themselves the Turkish Crime Family is demanding that Apple hand over a ransom or they will start wiping iCloud accounts that they claim to have compromised.
The news broke Tuesday when Motherboard reported that it had been contacted by one of the hackers and had been shown pictures of email correspondence between the hackers and Apple security personnel. However, Business Insider reported today that a reliable source who knows Apple’s security operations claims the “email is fake.”
According to Business Insider, the ransom was set at “$75,000 in cryptocurrency like bitcoin or $100,000 in Apple gift cards.”
However, NBC reports that the group has been in contact with NBC Bay Area and is now demanding Apple pay them $700,000. NBC could not confirm the identity of the individual or whether his claims of being with the group were true.
The hackers claim to have gained access to Apple IDs and passwords of over 200 million iCloud subscribers in some reports, but the group has contacted several media outlets with figures ranging from 200-750 million in account credentials.
Apple’s iCloud was not hacked directly, but rather the credentials were “culled” through breaches in other third-party services. The hackers say Apple has until April 7 to comply with their demands or else they will wipe the data from all the accounts.
It is possible that the whole thing is a hoax.
Business Insider surmised that there are several “reasons to doubt the hackers’ claims, such as their thirst for publicity and their fluid story.”
A few factors point to the extortion attempt being a hoax. First, conflicting reports on the ransom amounts are all over the place. Motherboard says the hackers want $75,000 in untraceable bitcoin or $100,000 in iTunes gift cards, which would be trackable. The NBC report says they want $700,000 in cash, which is also potentially traceable.
Likewise, the number of compromised accounts is not consistent either. Business Insider states that several news agencies were contacted, with the group telling them they had 200, 250, 519, or up to 750 million Apple IDs and passwords. A unified team of hackers would know exactly how many accounts it has access to and would certainly agree on a single set of demands.
The third issue that puts the whole thing in doubt is the group’s public announcement of a deadline. Contacting media outlets and setting a time limit is supposed to place pressure on Apple to comply. However, publicizing the deadline only serves to warn the users whose accounts may be in danger effectively nullifying any bite that the hackers might have had on Apple. Users knowing that they have until April 7 before their account will be in danger have plenty of time to sign into their accounts and change their passwords. The only way for the hackers to prevent this is to have already gone through all of the accounts and changed the passwords to lock out the owners. As of today, there have been no reports of this occurring. Hackers intent on getting money from Apple would not cripple themselves in this way.
Apple seems to agree with BI Business Insider.
“Apple is unsure if the group’s claims are true, but people at the company say they doubt they are.”
Despite this, Apple is taking the iCloud hacking threat seriously. According to NBC, Apple issued a statement Wednesday regarding the matter.
“There have not been any breaches in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud and Apple ID. The alleged list of email addresses and passwords appears to have been obtained from previously compromised third-party services. We’re actively monitoring to prevent unauthorized access to user accounts and are working with law enforcement to identify the criminals involved. To protect against these type of attacks, we always recommend that users always use strong passwords, not use those same passwords across sites and turn on two-factor authentication.”
Even if the hackers are serious and do have account credentials, there is no need to panic. As Apple stated, strong passwords and two-factor authentication are good at preventing data theft. Here is what iCloud subscribers should do in light of this news.
First, try to sign in to iCloud. If you cannot log in, your account may be compromised, and you should contact Apple immediately. Once you are in your iCloud account, change your password clicking the “Manage” link under Apple ID. A new web page will open where you will need to sign in again and then you can change your password.
Make your password secure by using upper and lowercase letters as well as numbers and special characters. The area where you change your password has a meter that will tell you how strong your password is as you type it. Try to fill this meter all the way up. The longer it is, the stronger it is. One technique for creating a secure password that you can remember is by altering a short, memorable phrase by changing characters within it. For example, “My son is good at math” could become “Mys0n!5g00d@math.” Note how the spaces were removed, the o’s became zeroes, the word “is” became “!5.” and the word “at” became the @ symbol.
The second thing to do is turn on two-factor authentication. You will find this option right below where you change your password. What two-factor authentication does is that anytime the service detects you trying to sign in from an unknown browser, it will ask you to enter a code that it sends to another device like your phone. After entering this code, it may ask you if you want to trust the browser or device you are using to access your account. If you are using your own computer, phone, or tablet, you can select “trust,” and it will not ask to put in the authentication code again. If you are on a public computer or are borrowing a friend’s, you would want to select “don’t trust.” That way the two-factor authentication will be reset on that device keeping your account secure.
Those two things should be enough to protect your account, but it is also a good idea to have a backup of your iPhone on your computer. Storing your backups automatically to iCloud is convenient, but if anything were to happen to iCloud or your account, everything including your backups could be lost. It only takes a few minutes to open iTunes and sync your iPhone once in a while, especially after you have made significant changes or added many contacts or photos.
The Apple iCloud hackers, the Turkish Crime Family, should be taken seriously until we find out whether they are just a bunch of jokers on April 7. Change those iCloud passwords and secure your accounts.
[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]