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It just works -- except when you're infected

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) has long maligned the Windows PC as being virus laden, while promoting its own Mac computers as being immune to such evils.  But despite this "It just works" publicity campaign, recent OS X malware [1][2][3][4] has forced Apple onto the defensive, silently rolling out tools to remove malicious programs from users' computers.

I. Malware Enslaves Unwitting Mac Users' GPUs

Now another piece of malware has struck unsuspecting Mac owners.  The new multiplatform trojan, reported in the wild by security firms Sophos Security and Intego, is much more sophisticated than most of the past malware to hit the Mac platform.

The malicious program installs as part of infected torrent downloads from sites such as The Pirate Bay.  Thus far the malware has been primarily found to be piggybacking on pirated copies of the image editing app GraphicConverter version 7.4 (whose authors are not involved in the screen and do not approve of the pirating in the first place).  The onboard malware is officially known in security circles as OSX/Miner-D, and is nicknamed the "DevilRobber".

Mac torrent client
Mac torrenters may find themselves the victim of a clever new trojan -- as usual Apple remains silent on the issue. [Source: iQuid]

Once installed on the victim's machine, the malware opens a back-door to the OS X system, allow remote command-and-control.  It also monitors your computer, attempting to steal personal information like credit cards.  

OS X miner installed
The malware targets multiple platforms -- including the Mac. [Source: Intego]

To do this it takes screenshots.  It also periodically dumps confidential information from various applications -- such as truecrypt data, Vidalia (TOR plugin for Firefox), your Safari browsing history, and .bash_history -- into the creatively named file dump.txt.  It also records your username and passwords via monitoring using a proxy server (on port 34522 in the most common variant, but likely to change).

But its biggest target is the crypto-currency "bitcoins".
malware code
The DevilRobber trojan uses screen captures to steal your password and private information. [Source: Sophos]

Bitcoins are a nation agnostic cyber-currency, beloved by hackers, internet aficionados, and libertarians (among others).  In order to seed the initial distribution of "wealth" on the market, people can use computing resources to "mine" Bitcoins, via clients.

The key part of DevilRobber is a Bitcoin mining Java program which the core trojan executes.  The trojan enslaves the target's GPU to harvest Bitcoins.  Due to the hard-to-trace nature of the cryptocurrency, the malware's authors can successfully obfuscate their identity and safeguard their profits.

The mining program is often how the infection is first noticed, as it makes the system respond sluggishly, given the load it places on the GPU.

As a secondary tactic, the core trojan also attempts to access any unencrypted Bitcoin wallets it can find.  It is unknown whether it contains code to access encrypted wallets, but it is reasonable to assume that future updates could deliver the ability to "crack" weakly encrypted wallet files.  Compromised wallets transfer their Bitcoin riches to the attacker.

Curiously, the trojan also deletes any files leading pthc.  This acronym is associated in internet forums with the phrase "pre-teen hardcore pornograph", aka child porn.  It almost appears that the trojan writers have attempted to do a bit of good amid all the evil they have created.

II. Lessons Learned

The new attack illustrates some of the issues surrounding both Apple computers and Bitcoins.

Bitcoin ButtonBitcoin badges
[Sources: Bitcoin Forum (left); Nerd Merit Badges (right)]

For Apple, it's yet another indication that company's public effort to feign ignorance on malware is harming customers.  While tech-savvy Mac users understand their platforms are just as susceptible to infections as PCs, in theory if not in practice, less tech-savvy users often believe their Mac is magically immune to infection.  This belief is perpetuated by Apple's advertisements and the company's technicians, which were revealed to be under orders to lie to customers -- feigning ignorance of infections.  This approach has led to at least some of Apple's customers being victimized by the hacking community. 

This situation is only likely to get worse, as Apple refuses to publicly acknowledge the danger, as Microsoft has, for risk of losing its "it just works" public image.  But currently in third place in computer sales by vendor, and with what some hackers say are weaker protections than Windows 7, interest in malicious Mac hacking is trending upwards.

As for Bitcoins, the cryptocurrency holds great promise, as it is formulated to prevent local government corruption, double spending, inflation, and ineffectual government monetary regulation.  However, the Bitcoin market has been dealt a series of setbacks, both via the entrance of cybercriminals as large-scale miners, and from account breaches.  

With Bitcoin's largest exchange recently hacked, the currency's proponents have raced to safeguard their brainchild.  More work clearly needs to be done to exclude cybercriminal miners, or Bitcoin risks being intimately associated with illegality.

Sources: Intego, Sophos Security

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By Denigrate on 11/1/2011 11:27:23 AM , Rating: 5
How could this happen in the magical Apple World?

RE: Inconceivable!
By corduroygt on 11/1/2011 11:43:40 AM , Rating: 3
Because you're using it wrong!

RE: Inconceivable!
By Shig on 11/1/2011 1:33:28 PM , Rating: 2

RE: Inconceivable!
By AnnihilatorX on 11/1/2011 2:40:27 PM , Rating: 4
Downloading pirated stuff without checking for viruses is definitely 'using it wrong' category ;)

RE: Inconceivable!
By Alexvrb on 11/1/2011 10:25:48 PM , Rating: 3
I would argue that they're using Macs exactly as intended.

Most PCs have AV running at all times, checking everything you touch. Most Macs don't have AV at all. Kind of hard to check it for a virus if you don't have AV (and in fact think Macs don't get viruses). Apple isn't exactly going out of their way to arm Mac users with constant security updates and free AV the way MS does. In fact they try to sweep such matters under the rug so people continue to believe that Macs are "safer" etc.

With that said, yes, when you download questionable material, you are asking for trouble.

RE: Inconceivable!
By Gio6518 on 11/1/2011 3:39:19 PM , Rating: 4
Steve isn't around anymore to magically wave his hand and say it doesn't exist....

RE: Inconceivable!
By Natch on 11/2/2011 8:09:45 AM , Rating: 2
I guess that, even in a world full of gum drops and magical fairy dust, you can still find yourself stepping in dog shit.

Not to worry. I'm sure the fruity ones will come out with a software patch, call it an updated OS, and only charge $10 for you to install it on your machines, all the while denying the existance of any problem and crowing about the improved performance you will get from your machines, which are technologically superior in every way.

RE: Inconceivable!
By fteoath64 on 11/6/2011 12:23:03 AM , Rating: 2
Because you have a government who uses paid shills to attack Bitcoin as it constitute a threat to their corrupt system.

Why would any sane person (even a lowly hacker) want to hack anything that is worth very little when there are far more profitable and easier target to hit ?.

BitCoin has been attacked by organised groups very often and you have to wonder who those people are and why are they doing it ?. Wonder long enough and the answer is clear.

"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA

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