Apple’s blockbuster financial results made headlines this week, but its year is going to be dominated by something more negative: the integrity of the Apple App Store. And following shock revelation after revelation after revelation, a serious new warning has been issued to all iPhone and iPad owners.
In a series of eye-opening tweets, influential developer Kosta Elefherious has exposed major new fleeceware scams inside the App Store which are not only affecting millions of iPhone and iPad users but also being advertently profited from by Apple itself. And users’ warnings are being ignored.
“Today I spent just a few minutes looking, and I found *multiple* top-grossing scam VPN apps… These have all been on the App Store for over a year, downloaded by MILLIONS… All this is in the US,” he points out.
“We’re dealing with a FACTORY of scam apps here,” he explains. “A web of different developer accounts controlled by the same people – so that if Apple ever wakes up and takes one app down, the others will remain… People desperately try to warn each other not to fall for these scams, and some have a lot of trouble cancelling the unwanted & recurring charges.”
Speaking to me, Elefherious highlighted four apps: ’VPN Plus – VPN Service’ (launched Dec 23, 2019), ‘Fast VPN & Wi-Fi Proxy’ (launched Oct 18, 2019), ‘VPN Valley – Security, Protect’ (launched Aug 16, 2019) and ‘VPN Guard & Wifi Proxy’ (launched Dec 29, 2019).
“These 4 have been downloaded a combined 9 million times, and anyone using them should delete them right away – having all your network traffic be routed through scammers is not exactly good for security or privacy,” he warned. He also said that despite drawing attention to all four, VPN Guard & Wifi Proxy is “still up, for some reason”.
“These aren’t any random apps, they’re top-grossing apps with ~$10,000,000 revenue!” he notes. Elefherious also warned me that App Store apps in Entertainment, Utilities, Productivity and Graphics & Design categories are particularly affected by fleeceware. Only last month he exposed secret casinos posing as children’s games.
Elefherious’ latest revelations come after comments from Eric Friedman, Apple’s head of Fraud Engineering Algorithms and Risk unit, which were revealed as part of court documents in the current Apple Vs Epic Games lawsuit. Friedman described Apple’s App Store defenses against malicious actors like “bringing a plastic butter knife to a gunfight” and “more like the pretty lady who greets you… at the Hawaiian airport than the drug-sniffing dog”. Compelling cases for reform are growing.
Consequently, all iPhone and iPad users need to stay vigilant because, as Elefherious continues to highlight, Apple may be reporting record profits but some of it is coming due to a failure to protect its customers.