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Monday, 22 February 2021 10:35

Mac malware for new and old machines found, payload a mystery Featured

Mac malware for new and old machines found, payload a mystery Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Researchers at security outfit Red Canary say they have discovered Mac malware that also has a version aimed at the new M1 machines – but are not clear on what it does or what the vector of infection is.

Detection engineers Wes Hurd and Jason Killam said in a security brief that the new malware, which was named Silver Sparrow, differed from traditional Mac adware in two ways: it used JavaScript for execution and had a related binary compiled for the M1 architecture.

The first native malware aimed at the M1 platform was found by well-known Mac security expert Patrick Wardle recently.

But despite ascertaining that Silver Sparrow was present on 29,139 machines in 153 countries — including big numbers in the US, the UK, Canada, France and Germany — the Red Canary duo said they were yet to observe the delivery of any malicious payloads.

"Yet, its forward-looking M1 chip compatibility, global reach, relatively high infection rate, and operational maturity suggest Silver Sparrow is a reasonably serious threat, uniquely positioned to deliver a potentially impactful payload at a moment’s notice," they wrote.

Hurd and Killam said they had found two versions of the malware: one which was only an Intel x86_64 binary, while the second contained binaries both x86_64 and the M1 ARM64 platform; all files were in the PKG format.

The duo detailed the make-up and operation of the malware in their brief but there were many grey areas to which they admitted.

"...we aren’t certain of the initial distribution method for the PKG files," they said. "We suspect that malicious search engine results direct victims to download the PKGs based on network connections from a victim’s browser shortly before download. In this case, we can’t be certain because we don’t have the visibility to determine exactly what caused the download.

"Next, we don’t know the circumstances under which ~/Library/._insu appears. This file may be part of a toolset the adversary wishes to avoid; it may be part of the malware’s life cycle itself as a way of removing components after an objective has been met.

"In addition, the ultimate goal of this malware is a mystery. We have no way of knowing with certainty what payload would be distributed by the malware, if a payload has already been delivered and removed, or if the adversary has a future timeline for distribution.

"Based on data shared with us by Malwarebytes, the nearly 30,000 affected hosts have not downloaded what would be the next or final payload."

Silver Sparrow uses AWS S3 as a host while callback for the cluster leverages domains hosted through the Akamai content delivery network, meaning that it has chosen extremely reliable infrastructure.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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