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January 8, 2011

Mac App Store Simple Copy Protection Security Bypassed

The Mac App Store was released in the recent 10.6.6 update, allowing Mac users to buy and install apps in the same, easy, one-click fashion as iPhone and iPod Touch users. Over 1 million apps were downloaded in the first 24 hours. Although the Mac App Store doesn’t make use of a sandbox like the iOS App Store does, there are still several mechanisms developers can use to prevent their software from being copied and shared between different users.

Hackers have discovered that one of the simpler methods used to authenticate an app is actually stored as a separate plist file within the application bundle. This means that an app can be copied, and the authentication files within its bundle can be replaced with those from an app that was legally purchased (even if it’s a free app).

In order to resolve this, developers should not rely solely on the data found within the plist file external to the binary, and perform some checks against hard-coded values within the binary itself. Some simple tips are available here. Ultimately all software is crackable, Mac App Store or not, so my suggestion to application developers is: spend more time developing great new features, and less time worrying about anti-piracy. This is what itself Apple does. In the long run most people will follow the simplicity route and buy the app.

In related news: How not to store passwords in iOS (developers take heed)

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