Given news that some hackers are using websites to mine cryptocurrency even when users apparently close their browser on Windows, I got to wondering whether a similar exploit would work on macOS.
As the video above shows*, a malicious app can easily hide an open Safari window from all desktop workspaces, making it incredibly difficult for users to notice or to make visible again even when they do. This trick can be exploited without elevated privileges, and it doesn’t matter whether the malicious app is code-signed or not.
An invisible Safari window is a problem because it could be running scripts, mining cryptocurrency, redirecting to sites for adware revenue or doing all manner of other things. Note the window could contain multiple tabs that the user may have already been tricked into opening before the window is made invisible.
As can be seen in the video, the Safari window isn’t in another full screen workspace, or minimized in the Dock or hidden by any other window or toolbar (as in the Windows 10 trick).
On the contrary, it can’t actually be found anywhere, and nor will Window > Bring All To Front help. If you open a new window and then try to use Merge All Windows to bring the hidden window out, all that happens is your new window will disappear with the hidden window too.
The only visible indicators that there’s an invisible window open are the window list in the Window menu, and the invisible outline revealed by Expose (four-finger swipe down).
So what if you find there is an invisible window hiding from you, how do you get it back?
To retrieve and kill the hidden window, you need to click View > Enter Full Screen, then click the red close button. Don’t click the green button to take it out of full screen though, as that’ll just cause it to hide again, with a nice animation that you can see on the video!
Another day, another hacker trick to watch out for folks!
* This vulnerability was demonstrated on 10.12.6. It also exists in both 10.11.6 El Capitan and 10.13.2 High Sierra.