FRAMINGHAM 7 JANUARY 2011 - The sale of iTunes accounts that have reportedly been hacked has yet to be stopped by Apple or the Chinese e-commerce site hosting the sellers.
Merchants on the Chinese retail site Taobao.com have been selling iTunes and Apple App Store accounts filled with U.S. dollars for bargain prices. Some services allow the purchase of US$100 worth of products on iTunes for merely 55 yuan ($8.30).
But the Chinese media has reported that hackers obtained thousands of the accounts sold on the site.
The merchants themselves, however, have not said where the accounts have come from. One merchant only said that "maybe" the accounts had been obtained from hackers, but added that the services were legal to buy because the accounts originated from the U.S. Another merchant could not identify where the accounts had come from.
The accounts sold online often state that buyers should make their purchases within 12 hours. This is likely made in order to prevent the real users of the account from noticing the unauthorized transactions and cancelling their credit card information.
How the users stole the account information, however, is still unclear, said Zhao Wei, CEO of Chinese security company Knownsec. Hackers may have originally tried to obtain these accounts by stealing the information on iTunes gift cards. But now they could be developing methods to steal user account information from computers and iPhones, he said.
Apple did not specifically address the problem of hacked iTunes accounts. "We're always working to enhance account security for iTunes users," it said in a statement, adding that users should change their iTunes password immediately upon finding unauthorized purchases.
Taobao has also taken no action. The company said it has received no information from Apple on the accounts, and that no valid takedown request has been received.
Users in the U.S. have complained about scams with iTunes accounts since 2009. In some cases, scammers likely obtained the accounts by sending out fake e-mail messages purporting to be from Apple to trick users into giving up their usernames and passwords.
The stolen iTunes accounts are all the more attractive in China because many consumers there have no way to create legitimate accounts of their own. The Chinese iTunes store only accepts payment by credit card, which many Chinese consumers do not have.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.