New Mac Trojan hints at ties to high-priced commercial hacking toolkit

Records instant messages, Skype calls, browser use, then shoots the info to a hacker-controller server

French security firm Intego discovered a new Mac Trojan horse this week that is being used to target specific individuals.

The Trojan, dubbed "Crisis" by Intego -- a Mac-only antivirus developer -- and called "Morcut" by Sophos, is espionage malware that spies on victims using Mac instant messaging clients, browsers and Skype, the Internet phoning software.

According to Intego, which published an initial analysis on Tuesday and has followed up with more information since then, Crisis sports code that points to a connection with an Italian firm that sells a $245,000 espionage toolkit to national intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

From all indications, Crisis, like any true Trojan, does not exploit a vulnerability, but instead relies on trickery to convince the user to self-infect his or her Mac.

"We believe that the infection vector may rely primarily on social engineering to be installed and at this point in time there is no reason to believe there is a vulnerability being used in conjunction with the threat," said Symantec in a post to its security response team's blog yesterday.

The malware tries to hide from security software by installing a rootkit, and also monkeys with OS X's Activity Monitor -- a utility bundled with the operating system that displays the working processes and how much memory each is consuming -- as another lay-low tactic.

Once on a Mac, Crisis monitors Adium and MSN Messenger, a pair of instant messaging clients; Skype; and the Safari and Firefox browsers. It captures a variety of content transmitted by those programs, including audio from Skype, messages from Adium and MSN Messenger, and URLs from the browsers. It also can turn on the Mac's built-in webcam and microphone to watch and listen, take snapshots of the current Safari and Firefox screens, record keystrokes, and steal contacts from the machine's address book.

Whatever content Crisis records is sent to a single command-and-control (C&C) server, said Intego.

The French firm pegged Crisis as "a very advanced and fully-functional threat," in part because of signs that some of the malware's code originated with commercial spying software.

That software, Remote Control System (RCS), is marketed by the Italian firm Hacking Team, and according to the company, sold only to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Hacking Team specializes in what it calls "offensive security."

RCS, said Hacking Team, "is a solution designed to evade encryption by means of an agent directly installed on the device to monitor," which is, coincidentally, a good definition of "malware."

In a marketing brochure ( download PDF), Hacking Team describes RCS as "The hacking suite for governmental interception," claims the software is used worldwide, and boasts that the software can monitor hundreds of thousands of infected computers or smartphones at a time.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, which interviewed Hacking Team co-founder David Vincenzetti last November, RCS sells for [euro]200,000 ($245,660), Intego noted.

"Due to the cost, this product is unlikely to be used by your average script kiddie in his parents' basement," said Intego.

Hacking Team did not reply to questions Friday about its connection to Crisis.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Read more about security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Gregg Keizer

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place