Apple has pulled an unknown number of mobile security apps from the iOS App Store as part of a new policy that takes exception to the ‘anti-virus’ and anti-malware’ software categories, Mac security firm Intego has revealed.
Working out exactly which apps have disappeared involves some detective work. Intego’s VirusBarrier iOS, launched in July 2011, is no longer available and a small number of other less well known apps – especially ones with the word ‘virus’ in their title – also appear to have vanished.
A few better-known ones still seem to be there, possibly because there were rebranded or reformulated at some point as more general security apps – the notion that they perform the anti-virus function is downplayed or no longer part of the product.
Symantec’s Norton Mobile Security is a backup and phone finder only, while McAfee Security does the same but adds a privacy vault. However, the latter’s McAfee Mobile Antivirus iOS is nowhere to be seen. It is not clear when it disappeared.
That is the issue hinted at by Intego – Apple no longer sees anti-virus as something that iPhone App Store users should worry about let alone download or pay for.
“Apple has elected to eliminate the category of anti-virus and anti-malware products from their iOS App Store. As a result of this decision, our product VirusBarrier iOS is no longer available for sale,” said Intego’s CEO, Jeff Irwin.
The fact that the news was broken by the head of the firm indicates a degree of annoyance.
Existing VirusBarrier iOS customers would continue to get virus definitions but there would be no future product updates because these had to go through the App Store, said Irwin. In other words, the product in its current form is dead.
The firm’s Mac desktop products, which include anti-malware detection, are unaffected.
“To be clear, this wasn’t an action directed specifically at Intego, we were one of several companies affected by Apple's decision.”
In a note set to thhe MacRumors website, Irwin revealed that the firm had appealed to Apple at executive level, to no avail.
"We were as clear as we could be that this wasn't a scanner, that it was scanning email attachments and cloud files," he said.
Apple can reasonably claim to be justified in its actions – malware that will run on non-jailbroken iOS devices is unheard of. Jailbroken devices are another matter with the Russian ‘Pawn Strom’ attacks publicised by Trend Micro being a notable recent example. Another example from late 2014 was Wirelurker.
Apple couldn’t care less about Jailbreakers of course. Users who break root and stray from the App Store have always been on their own when it comes to security.
To some Apple's decision will seem high-handed. Apple offers large number of apps that might not by some definitions be either necessary or even in the interests of the platform's users and yet it is the one that risks bad PR that gets pulled. The usual approach is to let the maret decide.