Locking iPhones for ransom, a new hi-tech crime that first emerged in Australia, Russia and some other countries in April, has finally come to Vietnam, distressing owners of the modern, pricy device.
Many Vietnamese iPhone users are shocked to see their handsets locked out all of a sudden, followed by a message asking them to pay a ‘ransom’ for unlocking.
“The message asked me to text a phone number, and when I did, the hacker insisted that I pay him VND3 million (US$141) to reactivate my iPhone,” a construction engineer based in Ho Chi Minh City said.
The victim said he had the email address that was used to register an Apple ID hacked, then came the phone locking after only five minutes.
Another victim said he had to give VND4 million ($188) to the anonymous hacker to unlock his iPhone.
Similar cases have been reported over the last two months in other countries.
Nguyen Hong Phuc, an IT security expert, said hackers have taken advantage of the Find My iPhone feature supplied by Apple to remotely lock the devices and ask for ransom.
Users of Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads need an Apple ID or iCloud account to connect their handsets with the Apple App Store or iTunes Store for downloading apps, music, movies or ebooks, and storing their data on the cloud database iCloud.com, Phuc said.
Apple ID is also required when people happen to lose their phone, as Apple’s Find my iPhone feature allows them to track their lost devices, send messages, and most importantly, lock the phones and delete all data remotely.
“Hence, with an iCloud account in hand, hackers can easily lock the victim’s iPhone and send a request for ransom,” Phuc said.
Vietnamese iPhone users are highly vulnerable to this new type of crime as they pay little attention to their Apple IDs, according to industry insiders.
Many people would simply take their iPhone to mobile phone stores to install apps using the iCloud accounts of the store owners.
When these accounts are stolen or hacked, hackers will have full access to lock a number of devices.
“The habit of using the same password for many different accounts, or having a very simple password, will also make it easier for the Apple ID to be stolen,” Phuc said.
“Users of Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads must be knowledgeable about the iCloud account to protect themselves.”