The annual Oslo Freedom Conference, where activists meet to share tips on advancing human rights, has thrown up an unusual piece of Apple OS X malware.
At a workshop covering how to secure your hardware against government intrusion, security researcher Jacob Applebaum discovered the code on a laptop owned by an Angolan human rights campaigner. The malware was stealing screenshots from the infected system and uploading them to two command and control servers.
The malware is a hidden program called macs.app which installs itself among the computer's log-in items so that it fires up once the machine is booted. It had been signed off by a legitimate Apple developer ID, enabling it to get past Cupertino's Gatekeeper security software.
Once activated, the software takes a regular series of screenshots from the infected computer and sends them off to two servers – one of which has been found to be inactive and the other is private. Since the initial discovery, a second sample of the malware has also been discovered on another system, but this isn't thought to be a large-scale attack.
"The Angolan activist was pwned via a spear phishing attack – I have the original emails, the original payload and an updated payload," Applebaum tweeted. He also said that Apple has now revoked the developer ID used by the code.
Thankfully, removing the malware is relatively simple. F-Secure already has a signature file for it included in its security software, and users can delete it themselves by removing the macs.app application from the log-in queue and applications folder.
The use of a developer ID is unusual in the world of malware for OS X, and this fact, along with its highly targeted distribution method, suggests it's a custom job done specifically for spying on specific individuals.
Malware is increasingly being used to spy on activists in China and other countries (here in the Land of the Free the government doesn't need to, since the phone companies are happy to help) and those who think they might be under surveillance should take extra precautions with their systems and communications. ®