Enlarge / This pop-up launches from an Apple support phishing site discovered this weekend by Ars.

Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica

India-based tech support scams have taken a new turn, using phishing emails targeting Apple users to push them to a fake Apple website. This phishing attack also comes with a twist—it pops up a system dialog box to start a phone call. The intricacy of the phish and the formatting of the webpage could convince some users that their phone has been “locked for illegal activity” by Apple, luring users into soon clicking to complete the call.

Scammers are following the money. As more people use mobile devices as their primary or sole way of connecting to the Internet, phishing attacks and other scams have increasingly targeted mobile users. And since so much of people’s lives are tied to mobile devices, they’re particularly attractive targets for scammers and fraudsters.

“People are just more distracted when they’re using their mobile device and trust it more,” said Jeremy Richards, a threat intelligence researcher at the mobile security service provider Lookout. As a result, he said, phishing attacks against mobile devices have a higher likelihood of succeeding.

This particular phish, targeted at email addresses associated with Apple’s iCloud service, appears to be linked to efforts to fool iPhone users into allowing attackers to enroll them into rogue mobile device management services that allow bad actors to push compromised applications to the victim’s phones as part of a fraudulent Apple “security service.”

I attempted to bluff my way through a call to the “support” number to collect intelligence on the scam. The person answering the call, who identified himself as “Lance Roger from Apple Care,” became suspicious of me and hung up before I could get too far into the script.

Running down the scam

In a review of spam messages I’ve received this weekend, I found an email with the subject line, “[username], Critical alert for your account ID 7458.” Formatted to look like an official cloud account warning (but easily, by me at least, discernable as a phish), the email warned, “Sign-in attempt was blocked for your account [email address]. Someone just used your password to try to sign in to your profile.” A “Check Activity” button below was linked to a webpage on a compromised site for a men’s salon in southern India.

That page, using an obfuscated JavaScript, forwards the victim to another website, which in turn forwards to the site applesecurityrisks.xyz—a fake Apple Support page. JavaScript on that page then used a programmed “click” event to activate a link on the page that uses the tel:// uniform resource identifier (URI) handler. On an iPhone, this initiates a dialog box to start a phone call; on iPads and other Apple devices, this attempts to launch a FaceTime session.

Meanwhile, an animated dialog box on the screen urged the target to make the call because their phone had been “locked due to illegal activity.” Script on the site scrapes data from the “user agent” data sent by the browser to determine what type of device the page was visited from:

window.defaultText='Your |%model%| has been locked due to detected illegal activity! Immediately call Apple Support to unlock it!';

While the site is still active, it is now marked as deceptive by Google and Apple. I passed technical details of the phishing site to an Apple security team member.

The scam is obviously targeted at the same sort of audience as Windows tech support scams we’ve reported on. But it doesn’t take too much imagination to see how schemes like this could be used to target people at a specific company, customers of a particular bank, or users of a certain cloud platform to perform much more tailored social engineering attacks.



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