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U.K.-based researcher claims responsibility for Apple Developer Center problems

Jul 22, 20135 mins
Application SecurityCybercrimeData and Information Security

Ibrahim Baliç says he was just searching for bugs and now Apple's Developer Center portal is down

Claiming that he was only attempting to hunt for bugs — security researcher Ibrahim Baliç has said that he was likely the source of a security breach, which forced Apple to take down their Developer Center portal last week.

Last Thursday, Apple’s Developer Center, a dedicated resource for third-party software developers working with iOS and OS X, went down. The outage was noticed immediately, and for three days speculation ruled the blogs and various online haunts used by Apple developers. In many cases, the assumption was that the outage and the silence from Apple themselves on the cause and recovery, could only mean that bad things were yet to come.

On Sunday, Apple addressed the outage in a statement posted to the Developer’s website, confirming some of the speculation that the outage was in fact due to a security incident. According to the statement, the day the outage started, an “intruder attempted to secure personal information of our registered developers.”

“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 the spirit of transparency, we want to inform you of the issue. We took the site down immediately on Thursday and have been working around the clock since then,” the statement from Apple said.

The outage is still ongoing as of Monday afternoon, as access to the Developer Center remains blocked. The reason, Apple noted in their statement, is due to the recovery process that includes “completely overhauling our developer systems, updating our server software, and rebuilding our entire database.”

Hours after the statement was posted online, and delivered via email to registered users — some of whom reported that they were seeing password reset requests and notifications — a Turkish security researcher, based in the U.K., claimed on Twitter and within comments left on Tech Crunch, that he likely caused the outage while performing vulnerability testing on Apple’s portal.

The researcher, Baliç, said that he recently started focusing his pen testing efforts on Apple. Previously, he alleges, his work included searching for and reporting bugs to Facebook. In all, he claims to have discovered 13 bugs on various Apple domains, and has reported each of them using their bug reporting system.

“One of those bugs have provided me access to users details etc. I immediately reported this to Apple. I have taken 73 users details (all apple inc workers only) and prove them as an example. 4 hours later from my final report Apple developer portal gas closed down and you know it still is… [sic],” his comment says.

“… today I’m reading news saying that they have been attacked and hacked. In some of the media news I watch/read that whether legal authorities were involved in its investigation of the hack. I’m not feeling very happy with what I read and a bit irritated, as I did not done this research to harm or damage. I didn’t attempt to publish or have not shared this situation with anybody else. [sic]”

It’s unknown if Baliç’s claims are legitimate. Based on details provided in a video by him (which is now set to private on YouTube), it would appear that he discovered a bug of some kind. But Apple has yet to confirm this information.

“While this breach may have come from an individual that does not intend to exploit the information, it reveals that the site was indeed vulnerable and the possibility that others may have access to the same data remains,” Michael Sutton, the VP of Security Research for Zscaler said in a statement to CSO.

“Access to Apple developer accounts would be a powerful tool for an attacker as that would allow for uploading potentially malicious applications on behalf of the compromised developer, although the apps would still need to get through the standard vetting process.”

In addition, Sutton added, the developer IDs and, names, and email addresses could be used in social engineering attacks, assuming others accessed the vulnerabilities before Baliç discovered them. Moreover, this incident happened just as developers are preparing applications for iOS 7, slated for release this fall.

Baliç seems to be making the attempt to distance himself from potential legal troubles with his statements that he intended no harm. However, in the video, he clearly shows personal information belonging to non-Apple employees, such as full names and in some cases corporate email addresses. Such a disclosure may come back to haunt him.

“As Ibrahim has not publicly disclosed the vulnerabilities that he discovered, Apple my not pursue any legal action (no harm no foul). If Ibrahim does publicly disclose them we may be looking at a different ballgame,” explained Peter Arzamendi, a Senior Security Consultant for Rapid7.

“The issues with disclosing a vulnerability, and the ramifications of doing so, is a struggle security researchers deal with on a day-to-day basis. As laws become more restrictive, we may see less beneficial security research being conducted; this will hinder the development of secure products and leave the user community vulnerable to attack. Effectively you’re impeding responsible researches from helping people to understand how they are at risk, and enabling attackers to continue to take advantage of bugs in secrecy.”