Hackers have discovered a way to steal in-app purchases from iPhone and iPad apps, illegally taking advantage of bonus content in apps and games -- and potentially paving the way for a new virtual black market.
That means wrong'uns can steal the things you buy in a game or app, rather than pirating the game itself.
It's hard enough to make money from apps already, as although the rewards are potentially massive, it's hard to guarantee success. In-app purchases were previously seen as safe, because even if a user pirated a game or app they'd still have to pay to take advantage of the in-app goodies -- until now.
Bristol-based developer Mobile Pie told Pocketgamer.biz it spotted the hack being used against music-management game My Star, when it was discovered that 93 per cent of the most expensive in-app purchases were actually swiped by hackers without paying, using a tool called IAP Cracker.
The top purchase in My Star is a walletful of 200 Star Cash credits, costing £27. The game had a big month in October -- earning 10 times as much revenue as the previous month -- but celebrations were cut short when the developers realised their internal records didn't match Apple's reports.
The hack has one big drawback: the developers can see who's used it. By swiping the Star Cash, the dim-witted hackers can take advantage of in-game offers and artificially boost their score, but the developer can simply delete their characters or ban them.
More worrying is the possibility that hackers could swipe in-app purchases and sell them on rather than boosting their own account. Illegal trade in online gear is every bit as real a problem as illegal traffic in real stolen goods. As long ago as 2007, a ring of teenagers were arrested for stealing and scamming thousands of pounds worth of virtual furniture from online game Habbo.
Feckless tea leaves using IAP Cracker report that the hack works on apps and games including Photoshop, Hipstamatic, Maxim magazine, Angry Birds and Cut the Rope. Other apps couldn't be cracked.