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Top 10 macOS Malware Discoveries in 2022

by Sentinel One
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2022 saw a number of significant malware campaigns targeting the macOS platform and the emergence of ten new malware strains or campaigns targeting Apple Mac users.

In this post, we review the essential behavior of each threat, offer primary IOCS for defenders, and provide links to further insights and analyses on each malware discovery.

Summary of Key Trends Emerging During 2022

Mac malware across 2022 has shown some interesting consistencies in approach from threat actors: heavy use of backdoors, cross-platform attack frameworks, and a preference to use Go as a development language.

Supply-chain attacks and targeted espionage are the two most common objectives. Perhaps most significant is the number of campaigns that are not targeted solely at macOS users but which now include a macOS component alongside the more usual Windows and Linux payloads.

1. Alchimist

Alchimist is a cross-platform attack framework first reported by Cisco Talos in October 2022. Discovered among the artifacts were a Mach-O binary and Mach-O library built in Go. The main function of the malware appears to be to provide a backdoor onto the target system. The malware attempts to bind a shell to a port in order to give the operators a remote shell on the victim machine.

The attack framework used for controlling the implanted malware uses a web interface written in Simplified Chinese. From the interface, the operator can generate configured payloads, establish remote sessions, deploy payloads and task active implants with various actions such as taking screenshots and executing arbitrary commands.

Cisco also reported that the Mach-O payload contains a privilege escalation exploit for CVE-2021-4034, a vulnerability in a 3rd party Unix tool called pkexec.

Since this tool is rarely found on Macs but is widely in use across various Linux distributions, this is likely an artifact of the cross-platform nature of the programming. Alternatively, it could indicate a payload configured for a highly-specific target.

Primary IoCs


2. ChromeLoader

ChromeLoader (aka ChromeBack, Choziosi Loader) was first reported in January 2022 and became widespread throughout the first half of this year through malverts and malspam. The malware takes the form of a DMG containing a shell script – a common infection method for adware and bundleware loaders since the success of OSX.Shlayer. The installer also attempts to “help” the victim override the built-in macOS security technology with a low-quality animated image.

The Bash script installs a Chrome browser extension that is either encoded in a separate file in the DMG or retrieved remotely from a hardcoded URL. The extension has the ability to steal information, hijack the victim’s search engine queries, and serve adware.

Researchers at Palo Alto reported that ChromeLoader installs a listener to intercept outgoing browser traffic. If the URL request is to a search engine, the search details are sent to the attackers C2.

Primary IoCs

/Volumes/Application Installer/ChromeInstaller.command

3. CloudMensis macOS spyware

First reported by ESET in July 2022, CloudMensis is a spyware downloader and implant that uses public cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Yandex Disk and pCloud to communicate with its C2 via access tokens.

Written in Objective-C, the downloader, execute, contains now-redundant code that suggests it has been around for several years. The backdoor implant, Client, contains code that supports features such as list running processes, list email messages and attachments, list file on external storage, run arbitrary commands, exfiltrate files and take screenshots.

The screen capture functionality requires CloudMensis to bypass TCC restrictions, which it attempts by exploiting CVE-2020-9934. This is a rather old bypass and may indicate that the targets were known to be running macOS Catalina 10.5.6 or earlier.

Primary IoCs

d7bf702f56ca53140f4f03b590e9afcbc83809db (execute)
0aa94d8df1840d734f25426926e529588502bc08 (Client)
c3e48c2a2d43c752121e55b909fc705fe4fdaef6 (Client)

4. CrateDepression

Reported on by SentinelLabs in May, CrateDepression was a supply chain attack on the Rust development community which dropped Poseidon payloads on its victims. Threat actors had hosted a malcious crate named ‘rustdecimal’ on crates.io, a typosquat of the genuine crate, rust_decimal.

The malware inspects infected machines for the GITLAB_CI environment variable, which is indicative of Continuous Integration (CI) pipelines used in software development. If the environment variable is present on the infected device, the malware retrieves a second-stage payload built on red-teaming post-exploitationt framework, Mythic, and writes it out to /tmp/git-updater.bin.

The executable is written in Go and is a Poseidon implant. Both macOS and Linux payloads were available to the attackers, and both contained similar functionality, including screencapture, keylogging, remote file retrieval, exfiltration, and persistence capabilities.

Primary IoCs

c91b0b85a4e1d3409f7bc5195634b88883367cad README.bin

5. DazzleSpy

First spotted by ESET in late January, DazzleSpy is a highly sophisticated piece of malware that uses advanced techniques to evade detection and maintain a foothold on infected machines.

The malware comes in the form of an unsigned Mach-O file compiled for Intel x86 architecture. When the Mach-O file is executed, it installs a LaunchAgent for persistence that masquerades as an Apple launch service.

This fake service targets an executable called “softwareupdate” located in a hidden folder in the user’s home directory.

DazzleSpy contains code for searching and writing files, exfiltrating environmental info, dumping the keychain, running a remote desktop and running shell commands, among other things. Collected data is hidden in a directory at ~/.local.

Primary IoCs

ee0678e58868ebd6603cc2e06a134680d2012c1b server.enc

6. Gimmick

In late 2021, SentinelLabs reported on macOS.Macma, a backdoor discovered by Google’s Threat Analysis Grup being used by an APT targeting pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. In March 2022, researchers at Volexity reported a threat they called OSX.GIMMICK, related to a Chinese APT group they say is renowned for targeting minority and protest groups across Asia.

GIMMICK and Macma bear a number of indicator overlaps, including use of similar drop paths for files associated with the malware (a subfolder of ~/Library/Preferences) and similar persistence agent labels (com.*.va.plist).

GIMMICK is described as a feature rich, multi-platform malware family that takes advantage of cloud hosting services like Google Drive for its C2 communications. The macOS variant of this family is written in Objective-C and contains a suite of backdoor commands for use by the operator:

Additional Required Fields
0 Set client timer interval for client info heartbeat message

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