Hackers behind iPhone ransom attacks arrested in Russia

A man and a teenaged boy are accused of using phishing and social engineering attacks to hijack Apple IDs and lock iOS devices

Russian authorities arrested a man and a teenaged boy from Moscow under suspicion that they compromised Apple ID accounts and used Apple's Find My iPhone service to hold iOS devices for ransom.

Find My Phone is an Apple iCloud feature that allows iPhone, iPad and Mac owners to remotely lock and track their devices if they're lost or stolen. A custom message can be displayed on the lockscreen when the feature is activated. In late May, many users from Australia and other countries reported that their iPhones were locked with a message claiming the device was hacked by a person or group named Oleg Pliss who demanded US$100 or euros to unlock it.

Apple said at the time that the incidents were not the result of iCloud being compromised and hinted that password reuse across multiple online accounts might be the cause of the hijackings.

It's not clear if the two Moscow residents, aged 16 and 23, were behind the Oleg Pliss attacks, but a press release Monday from the Russian Ministry of Interior that announced the arrests described a similar modus operandi.

The two allegedly compromised email accounts and used phishing pages and social engineering techniques to gain access to Apple ID accounts. They are then accused of using the Find My Phone feature to lock the associated devices and send messages to the owners threatening to delete data unless the ransom was paid.

Another technique involved placing advertisements online that offered to rent an Apple ID account with access to a lot of media content. Once users accepted the offer and linked their devices with that account, the attackers then used the Find My Phone feature to hijack them, Russian authorities said.

The Russian Ministry of Interior said it started receiving reports about such attacks in the spring. Regaining control of locked devices proved difficult for victims because they had to present Apple with an identity document and a receipt from the store where they purchased their device, the ministry said.

The apartments of the two suspects were searched and authorities seized computer equipment, SIM cards and phones that were supposedly used for illegal activities.

The two face charges of unauthorized access to computer information under the Russian Criminal Code.

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