400 iTunes Accounts Hacked to Make App “Bestseller”

A Vietnamese hacker has hacked 400 iTunes accounts in order to give his iPhone app bestseller status. PCWorld has more:

Reports emerged on Sunday that (hacker Thuat) Nguyen gamed the App Store ratings in the Books category, by purchasing his own apps using hacked iTunes accounts. At one point, the developer’s apps occupied 42 of the top 50 apps sold in the Books section, and users reported purchases of up to $500 with their accounts.

But here is the zinger; Apple is saying it was no big deal. Four hundred accounts equals 0.0003 percent of the over 150 million iTunes account holders, Apple points out.

Alex Brie, one of the developers who first reported the App Store problems with the Vietnamese developer, is suspicious of Apple’s claims. After his calculations, Nguyen would have needed at least 3,000 hacked iTunes accounts to reach the ranking he had on Sunday in the App Store.

Brie, who also develops iPhone books apps, was affected by Nguyen’s gaming of the App Store ratings. Despite Apple’s claims, he speculates that to achieve such high ratings for his apps, Nguyen had to hack into Apple’s iTunes servers and skip the normal security steps, or run an automated scripted program.

MacRumors has more on what Apple is doing to protect users:

The total number of iTunes users number about 150 million. Apple is said to be increasing security to help minimize this fraud by asking users to enter their credit card security code more often. If not compromised at iTunes, itself, then users likely revealed the passwords inadvertently through phishing attempts, keyloggers, or easy to guess passwords.

The hacked iTunes case proves two things. One, despite a reputation of relative infallibility, Apple is still a big company prone to the same mistakes and threats as any big company. Secondly, Apple, like many big companies, is getting away with being dismissive, having a lagging response time, and not having top-notch customer service (I’m referring to complaints I’ve read about Apple not emailing customers about their compromised accounts right away).

In other words, Apple is just another big company. But its brand and reputation are so strong that users are still shocked by negative reports about company products or services. I think Apple should make an effort to be less complacent and ramp up its customer service to maintain its brand, which is still just about as good as gold. Otherwise, reputation-wise, the company risks eventually becoming Microsoft II.