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Apple has announced it is removing a malicious code added to a number of apps commonly used on iPhones and iPads in China.

It is thought to be the first large-scale attack on Apple’s App Store.

The hackers had created a counterfeit version of Apple’s software for building iOS apps, which it persuaded developers to download.

Apps compiled using the software could steal data about the users and send it to servers controlled by the hackers.

In addition, the attackers could send fake alerts to infected devices to trick their owners into revealing passwords and other information.China Apple's App Store Hit by XcodeGhost Malware

The infected applications include Tencent’s hugely popular WeChat app, a music downloading app and an Uber-like car hailing app.

Some of the affected apps – including the business card scanner CamCard – are also available outside China.

An Apple spokeswoman said apps created using the counterfeit software, XcodeGhost, had now been removed from the App Store.

“We are working with the developers to make sure they’re using the proper version of Xcode to rebuild their apps,” said Christine Monaghan.

On its official WeChat blog, Tencent said the security issue affects an older version of the app – WeChat 6.2.5 and the newest versions were not impacted.

It added that an initial investigation showed that no data theft or leakage of user information had occurred.

Potentially hundreds of millions of users were impacted by the infected apps, experts say.

Earlier this month, login names and passwords for more than 225,000 Apple accounts were stolen by cyber-thieves in China.

The majority of people affected were in China.

Chinese web giant Tencent has denied claims that there is global censoring of its popular chat app WeChat.

It said a technical glitch had led to certain sensitive terms being blocked outside China.

Tech blogs Tech in Asia and The Next Web both reported receiving messages saying their chat entries contained “restricted words”.

The Next Web tried to write the words “Falun Gong”, a group banned in China, and Tech in Asia attempted to send “Southern Weekend”, the name of a newspaper in the south of the country that is at the moment the subject of a controversy surrounding censorship.

The blogs said their entries were blocked.

The Chinese government is known to closely monitor internet traffic within China, and all web content that crosses the state’s borders.

Chinese web giant Tencent has denied claims that there is global censoring of its popular chat app WeChat

Chinese web giant Tencent has denied claims that there is global censoring of its popular chat app WeChat

China’s Great Firewall prevents a number of Western companies such as YouTube, Google+, Twitter, Dropbox, Facebook and Foursquare from operating inside the country. The authorities also demand self-policing from local websites.

When approached by Tech in Asia, Tencent issued a statement, saying: “A small number of WeChat international users were not able to send certain messages due to a technical glitch [last] Thursday.

“Immediate actions have been taken to rectify it. We apologize for any inconvenience it has caused to our users.

“We will continue to improve the product features and technological support to provide better user experience.”

But Tom Rafferty of the Economist Intelligence Unit said the issue was unlikely to be just “a passing glitch”, and said that such practices could pose technical and political challenges to Tencent because international users were accustomed to sharing information freely.

“The latest incident… is representative of the <<growing pains>> that China’s internet and social media companies are likely to experience as they expand globally,” he said.

“The servers of such companies are typically based in China, which means the traffic they process will always potentially be vulnerable to monitoring.

“It goes against the grain of domestic censorship regulations, which show no clear signs of being loosened.

“Domestic users, many of whom already baulk at the level of censorship imposed on them, would react unfavorably if Tencent were to offer unfiltered content to overseas users.”

According to Tencent, whose services include instant messaging service QQ, microblogging site Tencent Weibo – which is similar to Twitter – and online games, WeChat has close to 300 million users.

That makes it one of the world’s biggest messaging apps.