A Guardian investigation has cast doubt on claims by a UK-based Turkish researcher that he hacked into Apple's Developer portal, which has been offline for more than a week.
Ibrahim Balic, who describes himself as a security consultant, claimed on Sunday that he had discovered a number of weaknesses in the site at developer.apple.com which allowed him to grab email addresses of registered developers.
Apple took its developer portal offline on Thursday 18 July. On Sunday it emailed developers warning that the site had been hacked and that some of their details might have been stolen. It has not given any more details of how the hack was carried out.
In all, Balic said he had been able to grab the details of 100,000 people registered on the site, and that he included 73 of them in a bug report to Apple. He claimed that he exploited a cross-site scripting (XSS) bug in the site, and noted 13 issues in a bug report to Apple between 16 and 20 July.
Balic offered to provide proof of his hack by sharing some details of the file with the Guardian, and provided the emails for 19 people; the Guardian also extracted another 10 from an email Balic put on YouTube in which he apparently showed how he hacked the site. (He has since made the video private.)
But attempts by the Guardian two days ago to contact 29 of the group whose details Balic claims to have acquired found that seven of the emails bounced — because the email is no longer operational — and not a single one of the others has responded to a request to say whether they are registered with Apple. Nor could any of the emails or names be discovered online — which would be unusual for any active developer.
Many of the emails also belong to defunct services such as Freeserve, Demon and SBC Global — which makes it unlikely that they would have signed up as developers, as that only became possible in 2008.
Graham Cluley, an independent security consultant, commented: "Many of the names and email addresses either don't look like they would belong to Apple developers, or appear to have left no footprints anywhere else on the net." Of the set of 10 emails which appeared in the video, he said: "It's almost as though these are long-discarded ghost email addresses from years ago or have been used by Balic in his video for reasons best known to himself."
Balic told iMore that the user information that he showed in a video came not from an exploit against a developer portal, but from Apple's iAd Workbench, for targeting advertising campaigns to users. He said that a malformed web request to those servers containing just a first name or last name meant he could get more data — including a full name, username and email address for those users.
He then said that he wrote a script that generated "random" users to get more account information wherever there was a match of some sort, and used that to acquire the user details.
Balic did not respond to a request by the Guardian to explain why the emails he had apparently collected were defunct or apparently inoperational.
Apple refused to comment on the method used to hack into its site. It would not comment on whether it has called in law enforcement over the hack, or whether it has identified any suspects.
Even if the hack was not carried out by Balic, Apple has still been the target of a significant attack. However, standard iTunes Store and App Store accounts belonging to non-developers have not been affected.
The increasing delay in bringing its developer portal back online may also create problems for Apple in its preparation for the launch of iOS 7, the updated version of its iPhone and iPad software. It released the third beta for the software on 8 July, and has generally aimed for a fortnightly cycle of releases. That would imply that the fourth beta should have been released last Monday 22 July – although a year ago there was a three-week delay, from 16 July to 6 August, between the releases of the third and fourth betas for iOS 6, the current iPhone software.
The company meanwhile has set up a new "system status" page, which on Friday morning showed that only two of its 15 developer systems — for updating apps, and reporting bugs — are online.
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