Teen broke into Apple’s servers, downloaded secure files & accessed user accounts

Apple's command center in Mesa, Arizona is used to oversee and manage all its data centers around the world

When he was just 16 years old, a young Australian boy has managed to repeatedly break into Apple’s servers and download about 90GB of “secure files”. Additionally, he reportedly accessed customer accounts and successfully obtained “authorized keys” as part of his offending.

His name cannot be mentioned for legal reasons, but the boy’s lawyer said that hacking Apple earned his client recognition in global hacking circles so that even mentioning the case in detail could expose him to risk.

The authorized keys, according to The Age newspaper’s report, grant log-in access to users.

The access apparently “worked flawlessly” until he was caught.

The schoolboy used VPN services to hide his true identity, but the story is short on detail. We have no idea if this was an actual hack (in that case, this would be a major blow to the company) or if he obtained access through phishing or other social engineering methods. We also don’t precisely know what kind of data he was able to download and if the files were encrypted.

As soon as Apple found out about the breach (understandably, the company was “very sensitive about publicity” surrounding the case), it contacted the FBI which launched a major international investigation. He was caught after a raid on his family home uncovered relevant hacking files in a folder titled “hacky hack hack”.

The police seized two Apple notebooks with serial numbers matching the serial numbers of the devices which were used to access and breach Apple’s internal systems remotely. “A mobile phone and hard drive were also seized and the IP address matched the intrusions into the organization,” a prosecutor said.

The boy justified his actions by telling investigators he had “dreamed of” working for Apple. I’m not sure that committing a crime against a company you’d die to work for is the smartest move, but if I were Apple I’d hire this wicked intelligent teen in a heartbeat (they did hire Comex, so…).

Apple has repurposed its failed sapphire glass plant in Mesa, Arizona into a “command center” for its global network of data centers and servers, but it’s unclear if that facility was used to discover the Aussie breach.

What do you think happened here?

In my view, the boy has not bypassed Apple’s security measures nor has he actually hacked his way into their systems. What we’re dealing with here is, probably, a simple iCloud phishing attack like one of those celebrity nude pic leaks.

Specifically, he might have obtained user names and password through phishing methods and then used those stolen credentials to set up an offending iCloud account on his own device to download its underlying data, such as photos, messages, contacts and more.

Photo: a rare look inside Apple’s Mesa, Arizona data center, via Tom Tingle / The Arizona Republic