In the past five days, first Facebook and then Apple disclosed that attackers exploited zero-day vulnerabilities in Java browser plug-ins used by their employees, although apparently failed to steal any customer or user data from either company. Twitter, which earlier this month warned that about 250,000 users' accounts were compromised by attackers, didn't say at the time how the company's systems had been hacked, but did strongly urge users to disable Java.
The attacks were apparently first discovered last month, and while the companies either waited to detail them publicly, or only released partial information, some security experts had seen signs that something was amiss with Java. "Apple was blocking Java a couple of weeks ago, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was advising against [using] Java in the browser," Sean Sullivan, security advisor at F-Secure, told Dark Reading. "I had a very strong feeling that something was going on."
Here's what's now known about the attacks:
1. Compromised iPhone Developer Site Served Malware
All three companies were apparently compromised after their mobile developers visited a popular website devoted to iOS development called iPhoneDevSDK.
The site's administrator confirmed late Tuesday that the site had apparently been hacked, and while no data appeared to have been stolen, all users' passwords have been reset as a precautionary measure. "Today, we were alerted that our site was part of an elaborate and sophisticated attack whose victims included large Internet companies," according to a forum post made by the site's administrator, Ian Sefferman.
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"As the most widely read dedicated iOS developer forum, we're targeted for attacks frequently," he said. "Security is a top priority for us, which is one reason why we switched to Vanilla Forums to host our site last year. Vanilla manages security like pros, and I should be clear that -- as best we can tell right now -- this attack has nothing to do with their software."
Seff said it's not yet clear when the drive-by-infection campaign started, but it appears to have been ended -- by the attacker -- on January 30, 2013. "We're continuing to work with Facebook, Vanilla, other targeted companies and law enforcement to find out who is behind this sophisticated attack," he said. "We're very sorry for the inconvenience -- we'll work tirelessly to ensure your data's security now and in the future."
2. Malware Infected Mac OS X Systems
Apple Tuesday released an update that inoculates Java 6 (for any OS X systems that are running it) against the exploit employed by the attackers who compromised Apple itself, as well as Facebook and Twitter.
"Apple has identified malware which infected a limited number of Mac systems through a vulnerability in the Java plug-in for browsers," according to a statement released Tuesday by Apple, reported The Loop.
"The malware was employed in an attack against Apple and other companies, and was spread through a website for software developers," said Apple. "We identified a small number of systems within Apple that were infected and isolated them from our network. There is no evidence that any data left Apple. We are working closely with law enforcement to find the source of the malware."
But according to Reuters, which first reported the news of the Apple breach, it's still not clear how much data may have been stolen from Apple, or if all infected systems at the company have yet been identified.
3. Attackers Employed Watering Hole Technique
Apple, Facebook and Twitter were apparently all exploited via a watering-hole attack, which refers to attackers using a known -- and not otherwise malicious -- website to serve malware in advance of their targets visiting the website. The technique has been used numerous times, for example in the so-called Aurora attacks that compromised Google.
In this case, attackers targeted mobile developers and succeeded in exploiting them, according to a blog post from Facebook's security team, despite their employees' systems being fully up to date and running antivirus software with the latest signature updates. "As soon as we discovered the presence of the malware, we remediated all infected machines, informed law enforcement and began a significant investigation that continues to this day," said Facebook.
"We have found no evidence that Facebook user data was compromised," according to Facebook. But it didn't say what types of data attackers might have obtained.