CAn internet security researcher has warned of a new computer virus targeting Apple’s iPhones, iPads and Macintosh computers, particularly in China. Hundreds of thousands of Apple customers may already be affected.

Silicon Valley-based Palo Alto Networks on Wednesday published a research paper warning that WireLurker, as it is calling the malicious software, “heralds a new era in malware attacking Apple’s desktop and mobile platforms”.

WireLurker gets its name from its ability to cross from a Macintosh to one of Apple’s mobile devices via a USB cable. Apple’s desktop and laptop computers can be infected by apps downloaded from Maiyadi, a third-party alternative to Apple’s tightly controlled Mac App Store. Once a Mac is infected, the malware can affect a connected iPhone or iPad. This involves a technique for installing apps outside the usual App Store that is usually reserved for companies which want to give employees bespoke software for internal use, known as “enterprise provisioning”.

More than 400 Mac apps have been infected and downloaded more than 350,000 times, Palo Alto said, making the virus the “biggest in scale we have ever seen” of its kind.  Apple has made security and privacy one of the biggest selling points of its recent iOS 8 software update. The encryption used by its iMessage and FaceTime apps was rated above rivals from Google and Facebook in a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation this week, though has received criticism from law enforcement agencies and national security officials. However, Apple faces a growing number of security challenges in China. Last month, chief executive Tim Cook met officials in Beijing to discuss data security, after hackers tried to intercept Apple customers’ usernames and passwords as they logged into its iCloud website.

Source: Financial Times