A report says that the software pirates used digital certificates that allowed them to publish modified versions of some apps without going through Apple’s tightly controlled App Store.
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Apple took a bold step when it revoked (and later revalidated) the Enterprise Certificates of Google and Facebook for violating its terms of service, but now it seems that there were several developers who were putting hacked iOS apps on people’s iPhones right under Apple’s nose. According to a report by Reuters, these developers used the leverages provided to them via Enterprise Certificates to circumvent the tight process of publishing apps on the App Store. By doing so, these pirated apps have reportedly been depriving Apple as well as the legitimate app developers of their share of revenue.
The report said that “illicit software distributors” such as TutuApp, Panda Helper, AppValley and TweakBox were found to be distributing the modified versions of apps like Spotify, Angry Birds, Pokemon Go, Minecraft and other popular apps. The modification included letting people use a music stream app without ads. Surprisingly, Apple has no system or framework to track the real-time distribution of these certificates, or check the spread of such apps on its phones.
“Developers that abuse our enterprise certificates are in violation of the Apple Developer Enterprise Program Agreement and will have their certificates terminated, and if appropriate, they will be removed from our Developer Program completely. We are continuously evaluating the cases of misuse and are prepared to take immediate action,” Reuters quoted a Apple spokesperson as saying. The news agency also claims that after it contacted Apple for comment last week, some of the pirates were banned from the system, however, these were operational again by using different certificates.
Apple has said that developers would now require to go through two-factor authentication, that is, a code sent to a phone as well as a password, to log into all developer accounts by the end of this month. The step is aimed at preventing the certificate misuse. Meanwhile, app makers like Spotify Technology SA, Rovio Entertainment Oyj and Niantic Inc are siding Apple to fight against these modified app.
Though Spotify reportedly declined to comment on the matter, earlier this month it said that its new terms of service would crack down on users who are “creating or distributing tools designed to block advertisements” on its service. Rovio, that developed Angry Birds, said it actively works with partners to address infringement “for the benefit of both our player community and Rovio as a business.”
There is no data on how much money these app pirates are duping Apple and legitimate app makers of, but some info on the fee charged by these developers was shared. “TutuApp offers a free version of Minecraft, which costs $6.99 in Apple’s App Store. AppValley offers a version of Spotify’s free streaming music service with the advertisements stripped away,” Reuters claimed. The distributors make money by charging $13 or more per year for subscriptions to what they calls “VIP” versions of their services. They claims that these versions are more stable than the free versions.
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