Less than 24 hours after the iPhone 6 went on sale in China, Apple's iCloud service was hit by a nationwide “man-in-the-middle” attack in the country, with hackers attempting to steal usernames, passwords and other information, according to a report from Chinese censorship monitoring group GreatFire.org.
For those who are not in the know, a man-in-the-middle attack (often abbreviated MITM) is a type of attack in which a malicious actor inserts him/herself into a conversation between two parties (usually a user and a website) and gains access to the data being exchanged.
In this case, users attempting to log in to iCloud were being redirected to a dummy site designed to look legitimate and trick users into entering their login details. While Firefox and Chrome displayed a warning before loading iCloud.com, users of Qihoo, the most popular web browser in China, were taken directly to the dummy site.
GreatFire, which also provided technical evidence of the attack in form of traceroute and wirecapture, alleged that Chinese authorities are behind the attack, which it said could be related to images and videos of the Hong Kong protests being shared on the mainland. The group added that the new encryption feature within iOS 8, which is aimed at preventing snooping, could also have frustrated the Chinese government.
The report also notes that authorities only attacked IP 220.127.116.11 (one of iCloud's many IP addresses), which means that not all users in China were affected.
"Apple has a long history of working with the Chinese authorities to self-censor content in China", Great Fire said in a statement. "While we worry for Chinese users who may have their accounts compromised, we are shedding no tears for the Apple executives". In August, Apple started storing Chinese users' personal data on servers located in the Asian country.
Aside from Apple's iCloud, Microsoft's Login.live.com is also being targeted with a MITM attack, the report says. Other major technology companies like Google, Yahoo, GitHub, and more, have also faced similar attacks in China over the past year.