Security researcher claims good intentions in hacking Apple Dev Center

Self-proclaimed white hat admits to breaching Apple Dev Center, but only after warning company of vulnerabilities

Apple has finally explained why its Dev Center has been mysteriously shut down since last Thursday: An intruder broke in to the company's developer site in an attempt to steal registered developers' personal information. While Apple says it's in the process of "completely overhauling" its developer systems, updating its server software, and rebuilding its entire database, a Turkish security researcher named Ibrahim Balic emerged on Sunday claiming credit for the successful hack -- and claiming he had only the best white-hat intentions.

Balic's claims are not verified, and several news organizations such as the Guardian U.K. and AllThingsD have questioned his claims to be the hacker that caused the shutdown. Apple told AllThingsD is not able to comment about whether it knows the hacker's identity "at this time."

Balic's tale is reminiscent of other security researchers who claim to have breached a third party's systems or software for the greater good. Whether Apple or affected developers will share his view that he was acting in their best interests (as well as Apple's) remains to be seen; for the time being, it's not crystal clear what went down.

Apple's take on the breach goes like this:

Last Thursday, an intruder attempted to secure personal information of our registered developers from our developer website. Sensitive personal information was encrypted and cannot be accessed, however, we have not been able to rule out the possibility that some developers' names, mailing addresses, and/or email addresses may have been accessed.... In order to prevent a security threat like this from happening again, we're completely overhauling our developer systems, updating our server software, and rebuilding our entire database.

Apple has since told TechCrunch that only developer accounts and not iTunes accounts were compromised and no credit card data was stolen. Developers, however, have reported receiving unsolicited password reset requests.

Since Apple revealed the breach, Balic has come forward to claim credit for discovering the vulnerability in the Dev Center site as well as 12 other bugs. He has also posted a video on YouTube (which at time of writing has been set to private), showing he had in his possession developer credentials extracted from Apple's developer database. However, he claims that his intention all along has been to light a fire under Apple's bottom to fix the bugs before a malicious hacker exploited them.

Balic posted his confession to the Comments section of TechCrunch. Following are some excerpts (with spelling and grammar corrected for clarity):

My name is Ibrahim Balic, I am a security researcher. You can also search my name [on] Facebook's Whitehat List. I do private consulting for particular firms. Recently I have started doing research on Apple....

In total I have found 13 bugs and have reported through I gave details to Apple as much as I [could], and I've also added screenshots. One of those bugs has provided me access to users details. I immediately reported this to Apple. I have taken 73 users details (all Apple workers only) and [provided] them as an example. Four hours [after] my final report, [the] Apple developer portal [was] closed down.

Balic claimed that Apple never responded to his reports but has since learned that the company has contacted law enforcement to investigate: "I'm not feeling very happy with what I read and [I am] a bit irritated, as I did not [do] this research to harm or damage," he said. "I didn't attempt to publish or have not shared this situation with anybody else. My aim was to report bugs and collect the data for the [purpose] of seeing how deep I can go within this scope.

"I do not want my name to be in blacklist," he concluded. I'm keeping all the evidences, emails, and images; also I have the records of bugs that I made through Apple bug report."

Balic appears to have lost sympathy from some observers for two reasons: First, he posted the aforementioned video to the public -- and neglected to redact the names and email addresses he'd collected. (I had a chance to view the video before Balic changed the privacy setting on YouTube.)

Second, Balic claimed in the same admission that he took only 73 users' details and has "100,000-plus user details." That's an obvious contradiction, though whether Balic took 73 users' details or 100,000, Apple developers should be rightly concerned. The Dev Center clearly has been breached by at least one third party, and Apple is worried enough to have shut down the Dev Center for days to pour time and resources into rebuilding the database and overhauling the site.

Developers also may not find much comfort in Apple's assurances that "sensitive personal information was encrypted and cannot be accessed." If cyber criminals have gotten their hands on developers' contact info, they're a step away from getting their hands on associated password information, either via cracking or spear-phishing. The last thing a developer wants is to have a bad guy take control of his or her developer account and attempt to propagate malware in his or her name.

For the time being, we don't know Balic's true intentions. We don't know someone other than Balic knew about the vulnerability that enabled him to make off with either 73 or 100,000-plus developers' data. What's clear, though, is that if you're an Apple Developer, you need to be mindful that your account may have been breached and to take necessary precautions to change your password as soon as possible.

This story, "Security researcher claims good intentions in hacking Apple Dev Center," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.


Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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