Malware potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of iPhones, iPads and Macs in China has been discovered by Silicon Valley-based security researchers Palo Alto Networks.
Called WireLurker, it has been detected in Maiyadi, a Chinese third-party OS X app store. According to the researchers that discovered it, the shady strain of malware has infected 467 apps and is "heralding a new era in malware across Apple's desktop and mobile platforms".
As its name suggests, WireLurker transfers itself from infected Macs to iOS devices connected to via USB. It goes on to install infected apps whether the mobile device is jailbroken or not by taking advantage of an iOS feature that lets enterprises circumvent Apple's App Store approval process to install company apps.
After successfully infecting devices, WireLurker can then steal user data before sending it back to servers operated by online attackers, whose motives remain shrouded in mystery.
Palo Alto said the malware was "the biggest in scale we have ever seen." While it appears to be targeting users in China right now, there's the potential for this to become a bigger threat.
Apple has acknowleged WireLurker's existence in a statement to TechRadar. It said: "We are aware of malicious software available from a download site aimed at users in China, and we've blocked the identified apps to prevent them from launching. As always, we recommend that users download and install software from trusted sources."
In September, OS X was one of several UNIX-based operating systems affected by the BASH (or 'Shellshock') security vulnerability, which let attackers remotely gain control of vulnerable systems. Apple moved quickly to address the issue by releasing a security patch for its Mavericks, OS X Lion and Mountain Lion operating systems.