New Apple-focused malware uses Macs to infect iPhones

A new kind of malicious software strikes at Mac OS X and iPhone users in China, according to a just-released security report.

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Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
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Apple's phones and tablets are under attack in China from a new kind of malware that uses Macs to get at devices that run on iOS, Apple's mobile operating system. Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple users in China have an active, new threat to contend with that attacks iPhones and iPads through Apple's Mac OS X operating system, a US security firm reported.

Palo Alto Networks called the malicious software "WireLurker" because it waits for a device running Apple's iOS mobile operating system to connect via USB to a Mac laptop or desktop. The software -- hidden in apps downloaded from China's third-party Mac OS X app stores -- adds malicious code to legitimate iOS apps. The malware attack is limited to China.

"We are aware of malicious software available from a download site aimed at users in China, and we've blocked the identified apps to prevent them from launching," Apple said in a statement. "As always, we recommend that users download and install software from trusted sources."

The threat is new to Apple, though this sort of attack has been around since about 2003, said Ryan Olson, intelligence director at Unit 42, Palo Alto Networks' threat research team.

"For the general user, it's not something you need to light your hair on fire about," Olson said. Still, "the tech that we're seeing here brings Mac and iOS much closer" to the threats facing Windows and Android pairings. Unlike most iOS threats, WireLurker is not restricted to iPhones and iPads that have been jailbroken, a user-initiated state that allows any app to be installed -- against Apple's wishes.

Olson said he doesn't know how many people have been affected.

Updated at 8:25 a.m. PT on November 6 with a statement from Apple.