With Apple’s signature developer event WWDC 2019 just around the corner, it’s a good time to think about your Apple-related Twitter feeds from an IT and security-related perspective. Are you keeping up with all the news that Apple want you to know about and (maybe!) some they don’t, like bugs, vulnerabilities and exploits?
In this post, we offer a curated list of all the best macOS and iOS related Twitter accounts to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
If you’re suffering from error messages like the one above after upgrading to Mojave, welcome to macOS’s new “User Data Protections”. In this post we’ll explain what they are and how to deal with them.
That error’s produced when the app your script is targeting (in this example, System Events) has been denied access to one of the areas now protected in Mojave.
Here’s the list of places which are no longer accessible programmatically without user approval on 10.14:
If the app you’re targeting in your script – or the script runner itself – is trying to access any of those 12 locations, you’ll likely either get the error shown at the top of this post, or some other failure.
The official way of dealing with this is to add the application to System Preferences’ new ‘Full Disk Access’ section in the Privacy pane:
At least that’s the theory, but you might find that you’ve tried that and things are still not working. If that happens, you can “start over from scratch” by resetting the access permissions to default.
In Terminal, try
tccutil reset AppleEvents; tccutil reset SystemPolicyAllFiles
After you’ve done that, the next time you run that script you should get an authorization dialog like this:
Alternatively, just go right ahead and add the app with the ‘+’ button in System Preferences.
Enjoy the resumption of normal service 🙂
There’s no doubt that System Integrity Protection has helped keep macOS more secure since its introduction in 10.11, and it continues to see updates that restrict what can be modified and where non-system files can be stored.
Apple’s official, user-facing documentation says:
Unfortunately, this documentation leaves out an important part of the story. The full list of protected paths and process labels can be found in a bunch of related files in the Sandbox folder within System/Library.
Among these are a list of protected locations in the rootless.conf file. The file, however, tells a little more than Apple’s user-facing documentation. Not only does it list the locations that can’t be modified, it also lists some that can. Despite what Apple officially says, not everything in System, it turns out, is in fact protected by SIP.
We can use a quick-one liner on the command line to output the exceptions on the current system like so:
awk '$1 ~ /^\*/' /System/Library/Sandbox/rootless.conf
On my 10.13.6 system that returns 9 locations, four of which are within the System’s Library folder:
Let’s check to see if these paths are really writable. We’ll create a simple script that, when run, produces a dialog box showing where the script is located. We first create the script in the /tmp folder, give it executable permissions, then move it into the System Library’s ‘Speech’ folder. We can do all this on the command line in Terminal, then execute it:
Sure enough, our test produces a script showing that it’s running out of one of the locations listed as an exception in rootless.conf.
This, of course, isn’t a SIP vulnerability. The paths we’re talking about are listed as exceptions to SIP protection, after all; what’s more, they do indeed require administrator privileges to write to (although not to run). The issue is that very few users will know that these paths are exceptions. In fact, aside from their being written in rootless.conf, there may be no other place where they are all documented, at least not at the user level. And that obscurity, of course, means many will have no idea that malware can install itself in places in the System folder where, for sure, most users will fear to tread.
Moreover, even if the user were to notice these paths in a process output or list of open files in Activity Monitor, it would be very easy to overlook them as being legitimate since they would all begin with the path ‘/System/Library/…’. Naturally, we assume the System’s folder is reserved for system files, not the user’s and not third-party applications’ either. Apple’s user-facing documentation that we referred to earlier encourages this very assumption.
What does it all mean?
In this post we’ve seen that there are places in the System folder that could easily be adopted as a nice hiding place for malware which has acquired elevated privileges. The aim here was to make these exceptions a little less obscure and to encourage people – especially those troubleshooting macOS for malware and adware issues – to add these locations to their list of places to keep an eye on.
Featured pic: Protection by disguy2k
EvilOSX is a malware project hosted on GitHub that offers attackers a highly customisable and extensible attack tool that will work on both past and present versions of macOS. The project can be downloaded by anyone and, should that person choose, be used to compromise the Macs of others.
What particularly interested me about this project was how the customisation afforded to the attacker (i.e., anyone who downloads and builds the project, then deploys it against someone else) makes it difficult for security software like my own DetectX Swift to accurately track it down when it’s installed on a victim’s machine.
In this post we’ll explore EvilOSX’s capabilities, customisations, and detection signatures. We’ll see that our ability to effectively detect EvilOSX will depend very much on the skill of the attacker and the determination of the defender.
For low-skilled attackers, we can predict a reasonably high success rate. However, attacker’s with more advanced programming skills that are able to customise EvilOSX’s source code to avoid detection are going to present a bigger problem. Specifically, they’re going to put defenders in an awkward position where they will have to balance successful detection rates against the risk of increasing false positives.
We’ll conclude the discussion by looking at ways that individuals can choose for themselves how to balance that particular scale.
What is it?
EvilOSX is best described as a RAT. The appropriately named acronym stands for remote access trojan, which in human language means a program that can be used to spy on a computer user by accessing things like the computer’s webcam, microphone, and screenshot utility, and by downloading personal files without the victim’s knowledge. It may or may not have the ability to acquire the user’s password, but in general it can be assumed that a RAT will have at least the same access to files on the machine as the login user that has been compromised.
Whether EvilOSX is intentionally malicious or ‘an educational tool’ is very much a matter of perspective. Genuine malware authors are primarily in the business of making money, and the fact that EvilOSX (the name is a bit of a giveaway) is there for anyone to use (or abuse) without obvious financial benefit to the author is arguably a strong argument for the latter. What isn’t in doubt, however, is that the software can be readily used for malicious purposes. Irresponsible to publish such code? Maybe. Malicious? Like all weapons, that depends on who’s wielding it. And as I intimated in the opening section, exactly how damaging this software can be will very much depend on the intentions and skills of the person ‘behind the wheel’.
How does it work?
When an attacker decides to use EvilOSX, they basically build a new executable on their own system from the downloaded project, and then find a way – through social engineering or exploiting some other vulnerability – to run that executable on the target’s system.
There is no ‘zero-day’ here, and out of the box EvilOSX doesn’t provide a dropper to infect a user’s machine. That means everybody already has a first line of defence against a malicious attacker with this tool: Prudent browsing and careful analysis of anything you download, especially in terms of investigating what a downloaded item installs when you run it (DetectX’s History function is specifically designed to help you with this).
EvilOSX doesn’t need to be run with elevated privileges, however, nor does the attacker need to compromise the user’s password. As intimated earlier, it’ll run with whatever privileges the current user has (but, alas, that is often Admin for many Mac users). All the attacker needs to do is to convince the victim to download something that looks innocuous and run it.
Once run, the malicious file will set up the malware’s persistence mechanism (by default, a user Launch Agent) and executable (the default is in the user’s ~/Library/Containers folder) and then delete itself, thus making it harder to discover after the fact how the infection occurred.
After successful installation, the attacker can now remotely connect to the infected machine whenever both the client (i.e., victim) and server (i.e., attacker) are online.
Once the attacker has surreptitiously connected to the client, there are a number of options, including webcam, screenshots, and downloading and exfiltrating browser history.
In my tests, some of the modules shown in the above image didn’t work, but the webcam, screenshots, browser history and the ability to download files from the victim’s machine were all fully functional.
By default, EvilOSX will offer the attacker the option of making a LaunchAgent with a custom name – literally, anything the attacker wants to invent, or to use the default com.apple.EvilOSX.
That in itself isn’t a problem for DetectX Swift, which examines all Launch Agents and their program arguments regardless of the actual filename. The malware also offers the option to not install a Launch Agent at all. Again, DetectX Swift will still look for the malware even if there’s no Launch Agent, but more on this in the final sections below.
If configured, the malware installs the Launch Agent and, by default, points it to run a binary located at ~/Library/Containers/.EvilOSX. There’s no option for changing this in the set up routine itself, but the path to the program argument is easily modified if the attacker is willing to do some basic editing of the source code.
Making matters even more difficult is that with a little know-how, the attacker could easily adapt EvilOSX to not use a Launch Agent at all and to use one of a variety of other persistence methods available on OSX like cron jobs, at jobs and one or two others that are not widely known. I’ll forego giving a complete rundown of them all here, but for those interested in learning more about it, try Jason Bradley’s OS X Incident Response: Scripting and Analysis for a good intro.
String pattern detection
Faced with unknown file names in unknown locations, how does an on-demand security tool like DetectX Swift go about ensuring this kind of threat doesn’t get past its detector search? Let’s start to answer that by looking at the attack code that runs on the victim’s machine.
We can see what the attack code is going to look like before it’s built from examining this part of the source code:
As the image above shows, the structure and contents of the file are determined by the output_file.write commands. Before exploring those, lets just take a look at what the finished file looks like. Here’s the start of the file:
and here’s the final lines:
Notice how the first four lines of the executable match up with the first four output_file.write commands. There’s a little leeway here for an attacker to make some customisations. The first line is required because, as noted by the developer, changing that will effectively nullify the ability of the Launch Agent to run the attack code. Line 4, or some version of it, is also pretty indispensable, as the malware is going to need functions from Python’s
os module in order to run a lot of its own commands. Line 3, however, is more easily customised. Note in particular that the output_file.write instruction defines how long the random key shall be: between 10 and 69 (inclusive) characters long. One doesn’t have to be much of an expert to see how easy it would be to change those values.
Line 5 in the executable is where things get really interesting, both for attacker and defender. As it is, that line contains the entire attack code, encrypted into gibberish by first encoding the raw python code in base64 and then encrypting it with AES256. That will be random for each build, based on the random key written at Line 3. We can see this in the next image, which shows the encrypted code from three different builds. Everything from the highlighted box onwards to the last 100 or so characters of the script are random.
However, as one of my favourite 80s pop songs goes, some things change, some stay the same. The first thing that we can note, as defenders, is that when this code is running on a victim’s machine, we’re going to see it in the output of
ps. If you want to try it on your own machine, run this from the command line (aka in the Terminal.app):
ps -axo ppid,pid,command | grep python | grep -v python
That will return anything running on your Mac with
python in the command or command arguments.
Of course, the victim (and yourself!) may well have legitimate Python programs running. To limit our hits, we can run the
file command on each result from
ps and see what it returns. Our attack code, being a single, heavily encrypted and extremely long line in the region of 30,000 characters, will return this indicator:
file: Python script text executable, ASCII text, with very long lines
That still isn’t going to be unique, but the test will futher narrow down our list of candidates. We can then use string pattern detection on the remaining suspects to see which contain the following plain text items,
-md sha256 | base64 --decode")
We could arguably even include this:
which occurs immediately after
echo, but for reasons I’m about to explain, that might not be a good idea. Still, from the default source code provided by the developer, if we find all of those indicators in the same file, we can be reasonably certain of a match (in truth, there’s a couple of other indicators that I haven’t mentioned here in order to keep DetectX Swift one-step ahead of the attackers).
Unfortunately for defenders, the attacker has a few workarounds available to them for defeating string pattern detection. To begin with, the attacker could adapt the code to use something other than
base64, or indeed nothing at all. Similary,
AES256 isn’t the only option for encryption. For these reasons,we can’t assume that we’ll find something like
U2FsdGVkX1 in the malicious file. Then, there’s the original source code’s use of the long-deprecated os.popen. That is an odd choice to start with, and someone with a bit of experience in Python would be able to rewrite that line to avoid the telling indicators.
Skill level and customisation options
Advanced detection options
At this point you may be feeling that the attacker holds all the cards, and to a certain extent that is true, but there are some positive takeaways. First, we can be fairly sure of catching the neophyte hackers (aka “script kiddies”) with little to no programming experience who are trying to hack their friends, school or random strangers on the internet. The motivation to adapt the code is probably not going to be there for a large number of people just doing it 4 the lulz.
Secondly, depending on your tolerance for investigating false positives, and as I’ll explain how below, if you needed to be super vigilant, you could simply check on every python executable running on your Mac which
file identifies as having ‘very long lines’. For sure, there are legitimate programs doing that, but the number still isn’t going to be that high on any given machine, and the paths to those legit programs are going to be readily identifiable. If security is of overriding importance, then it’s not much inconvenience, and time well spent.
By default, DetectX Swift will find instances of EvilOSX running on a mac when it’s used out of the box, and when its used with a modified launch agent and executable path. It will also still find it when the attacker has made certain alterations to the source code. However, a determined attacker who chooses to rewrite the source code specifically to avoid string pattern detection is always going to be one-step ahead of our heuristics.
We are not out of options though. You can still use DetectX Swift combined with the Terminal.app as a means to making custom detections as mentioned above. Here’s how:
- Launch DetectX Swift and allow it to search for the variations of EvilOSX it knows about. If nothing is returned, go into the Profile view.
- Click inside the dynamic profiler view, and press Command-F and type python into the search field.
- If there are no hits in the Running Processes section, you don’t have EvilOSX running on your machine.
- If there are any hits within the Running Processes section, make a note of each one’s command file path by selecting it in the view and pressing Command-C to copy it.
- Switch to the Terminal app, type
file(with a space) and Command-V to paste. If the path has any spaces in it, surround it in single quotes. Then press return.
- If the path doesn’t come back with ‘very long lines’, the file isn’t EvilOSX.
- If it does, hit the up arrow on the keyboard to put the previous command back at the prompt, use Control-A to move the cursor to the beginning of the line, and replace the word
cat(if you’re familiar with
Vior similar command line text editors use one of those instead). Hit return.
- Does the file end with
- Use command and the up arrow to go back up to the beginning of the file. How close does the file look to matching what you’ve seen here? Look for variations like
import * from osand
- Consider the path that you pasted in. Is it something that looks like it belongs to a genuine program, or is it a completely unfamiliar? Anything that points to ~/Library and isn’t contained within a recognized application named folder should warrant further investigation.
Inspect the output from
cat with the following in mind:
You’ll need to consider carefully the answers to 8, 9, & 10, with an emphasis on the latter, for each python file you tested to make an assessment. If you’re in any doubt, contact us here at Sqwarq and we’ll be glad to take a look at it and confirm one way or the other.
EvilOSX is just one of an increasing number of Python RAT projects that are appearing on the internet. It’s not particularly sophisticated, and this is both a strength and a weakness. With modest programming skills, an attacker can modify the source code to increase the chances of evading automated detections. However, vigilant users can still identify EvilOSX if they know what to look for, as explained in the preceding sections of this post, or by contacting Sqwarq support for free advice.
Stay safe, folks! 🙂
MyCouponize is an aggressive adware infection that simultaneously installs itself in Safari, Chrome and Firefox, It hijacks the user’s search and page loads, redirecting them to multiple web sites that advertise scamware and other unwanted junk.
1. Run the search in DetectX.
2. Click on the [X] button.
You’ll find this button just above the results table to the right, between the search count and the tick (whitelist) button. It will turn red when you hover over it. When it does so, click it.
Then hit ‘Delete’ to remove all the associated items.
You’ll need to enter a password as some of the items are outside of your user folder.
esc key or click the ‘Cancel’ button on any pop up dialogs that appear.
3. Go to the Profiler
Here we’ll unload the launchd processes that belong to MyCouponize.
Navigate to the user launchd processes section and move the cursor over the item
Click the ‘Remove x’ button that appears when the line is highlighted.
Wait for the profiler to refresh and then go back to the same section and remove the second process called
4. Quit the mediaDownloader.app
This item has already been deleted in step 1, but its process may still be running in memory. If its icon appears in the Dock, right click on it and choose ‘Quit’ from the menu.
4. Finally, go to Safari Preferences’ Extensions tab
Click the uninstall button to remove the MyCouponize extension.
After that, Safari should be in good working order. If you have Chrome, Firefox or possibly other browsers installed, make sure you remove the extensions or Add Ons from those, too.
Update: There’s a security update available in the App Store now that mitigates this risk. It should be applied by all High Sierra users as a matter of urgency.
Today has been all about a monumental security flaw in High Sierra which allows anyone to log in to a mac and immediately become the root user without a password at all.
If you haven’t yet seen the news, check out the 30-second video above. If you’re not on High Sierra, no need to worry.
Although there are conflicting reports of exactly under what conditions the exploit can be triggered, it seems that in most cases two attempts are required to escalate user privileges. The first time enables the root user with the password that you do or do not put in the password field (i.e., it’ll accept a blank password). The second time is using those credentials to unlock whatever it is you want to unlock (in the video, only 1 attempt is shown as I had already ran the exploit once prior to making the video). There also seems to be conflicting reports about whether the flaw can be exploited remotely. What does seem certain is that malicious 3rd party applications could programmatically use it to escalate privileges for themselves, so it’s important to make sure you take the proper precautions to deal with this flaw until Apple patches it with an update.
Alas, with so much excitement, it seems some people are getting confused about exactly what needs to be done to avoid falling victim to this security flaw. The answer is not, as has been mistakenly suggested in some quarters, to disable the root user, but quite the reverse: you need to enable it.
The one thing that stops the flaw from being exploited is having the root user already enabled and set with a strong password.
By default, macOS ships with the root user disabled, so unless you (or someone who administrates your mac) has enabled it at some point, it won’t be set. If you’re not sure, this AppleScript will quickly tell you the status of the root user:
Update: further testing on 10.13 shows that the root user may be enabled without writing a ShadowHash entry to dscl. In that case, the script would incorrectly indicate root was disabled. Thus, to be certain, the best way to check is to follow the instructions in the apple support article linked to below.
If you find the root user is disabled, then go and enable it by following Apple’s instructions here:
Be sure to use a strong password of at least 14 characters or more. You can save the password if you want, but it doesn’t really matter much if you forget it. There’s really never any need for an admin user to require the root user at all, and there are other ways to get root privileges safely through the Terminal if needs be.
Spoofing or phishing – presenting a user with fake authentication requests – is a common email tactic, but it’s not the only vector where you need to be on your guard. Every version of macOS is vulnerable to a very simple phishing attack right on your desktop that doesn’t require admin privileges to run, would not be detected by GateKeeper or XProtect, and which could easily be placed on your mac by any of the nefarious malware / adware installer scripts that come with some less reputable software downloads.
This attack isn’t new, but it’s not often talked about. The easiest way to see how it works is in this quick 4-minute demo:
As you can see, it’s easy to grab the icon of any Application and put it in the script; it doesn’t even have to be the icon of an app that’s running. The simple demo I gave above could easily launch iTunes first to increase the coherence of the attack, or it could use a completely different icon, including the icon of security programs you may have running on your mac.
How can you check?
If you were presented with a password request like this and wanted to check whether it’s legitimate or not, an easy way would be to use my free utility DetectX Swift’s Profiler. Click the Profiler function, and search for ‘osascript’ within the Running Processes section. Note how DetectX Swift shows you the text of the script being run, confirming that this dialog is up to no good:
It’s been unusually quiet on Applehelpwriter these past few months, and the reason is that I’ve been devoting all my time and efforts to the new version of DetectX. The new version is called DetectX Swift because (yeah, you guessed it) I wrote it in Swift and because it’s considerably faster than its older sibling.
DetectX Swift’s got a new interface, but there’s far more going on under the hood. The Search uses some fancy heuristics as well as hard-coded and live update search definitions to ensure it provides the very best in security threat scanning.
The new Profile view employs some super cool dynamic highlighting and lets you inspect the contents not only of directories but also of scripts, plists and other files that could execute troublesome code on your mac.
There’s changes in the History view, too, both in the display and functions. One of the coolest things I like about the new History function is that you can run a diff on any previous run against the latest run, immediately seeing how they differ.
There’s tons more to DetectX Swift, but the best way to find out about it is just to try it. The beta version is free to use for both Home and Commercial users, so just head off over to its home page and grab yourself a copy!
Don’t forget to keep us informed of how it goes. The beta is still in an early stage and more features are slated as it develops, but feel free to tell us about anything that you feel could be done better or things that you’d like to see added.
Share and enjoy! 🙂