Developer's apps disappear from App Store amid hacking complaints

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Some 40 apps from a developer that inexplicably surged up the sales rankings of the App Store have been removed from Apple’s online retail outlet, amid complaints from other developers and Web reports of suspicious activity.

Over the weekend, offerings from developer Thuat Nguyen claimed 40 of the 50 slots for top-selling apps in the Books category. Many of the apps were in the top-selling charts despite having few user reviews, according to other developers who first spotted the problem.

Writing on his blog, developer Alexandru Brie noted that his app, Self Help Classics, had fallen out of the top 50 paid book applications list after being in the top 20 for 18 months.

“I had hoped things would get back to normal thinking that, eventually, these weird apps would just go out of fashion,” Brie said in an interview with IDG News Service. “There was a drop in sales, not only for me but for all the developers whose apps had been shifted by the 41 apps in question.”

Another developer, Patrick Thomson, also spotted the strange behavior and contacted Brie via e-mail. “It looks like the Books category has been hijacked by an app publisher named mycompany/Thuat Nguyen,” Thomson wrote in his e-mail. “His apps now occupy 40 of the top 50 ranks in the Books category on the app store. These are apps that typically wouldn’t rank in the Books category and most of them don’t have any ratings or reviews.”

As of Monday morning, searches for Thuat Nguyen’s apps indicated that they had been removed from the U.S. App Store. Brie told IDG News Service that his app was back among the top paid apps in the store.

Both The Next Web and Engadget, which first reported on the story over the weekend attributed the sudden surge of Thuat Nguyen app sales to possibly compromised iTunes Store accounts. According to Thomson’s e-mail, some of the apps that had jumped into the top-selling app lists contained user comments complaining that their accounts had been hacked to purchase the software. The Next Web’s report on the incident includes a screenshot of Twitter users complaining of hacked iTunes Store accounts, though it’s unclear if those comments were related to the unusual activity in the App Store’s Books section in recent days.

It’s easy to check the security of your own iTunes account. Just click on your account name on the right hand side of iTunes’ menu bar. After entering your password, click on the View Account button. You’ll be taken to the Apple Account Information page where you’re able to view your purchase history. From there, you can make sure that all your app purchases are ones that you’ve made (though Apple makes this somewhat difficult by mixing in free app updates amid purchased apps). If you spot an app you didn’t buy among your recent purchases, click the Report a Problem button.

To safeguard against a compromised password, you can click on Edit Account Info to change yours. Longer passwords containing numbers and special characters are harder for the bad guys to crack.

Jeremy Kirk of IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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