UPDATED 21:37 EST / FEBRUARY 21 2021

SECURITY

Newly detected ‘mystery’ malware targets Macs running Intel and M1 chips

A new form of malware has been discovered to be infecting Apple Inc. computers running Intel Corp. chips and the company’s own M1 chips but oddly it’s not known what the intent behind the malware is.

Detailed late last week by security researches at Red Canary, the malware targets LaunchAgent, a root-level folder in macOS that contains scripts to automatically manage system processes such as backups with Apple’s Time Machine. LaunchAgents folders were initially launched in 2012 to help prevent malware attacks, but today the same folders are now being targeted in a “mystery” malware attack.

Usually at this point in a post about malware there would be a description of what the malware does and an explanation of its intent. That’s not the case here with what the Red Canary researchers dub “Silver Sparrow.” The malware is confirmed to exist on new Macs, including those with M1 chips, but it hasn’t done anything nefarious to date.

That may change, however. “Though we haven’t observed Silver Sparrow delivering additional 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,” the researchers noted.

So although the malware has been detected and is sitting in plain sight, at some point in the future those behind the malware may leverage it to install a variety of code that could be damaging to macOS users.

Silver Sparrow is said to infect macOS installations by a novel use of JavaScript for execution, a form of infection that the researchers noted they hadn’t previously encountered with other forms of macOS malware. It’s also the first confirmed form of malware that also infects Apple computers running M1 chips, introduced in November. Over time they will replace Macs running Intel processors.

“The ultimate goal of this malware is a mystery,” the Red Canary researchers concluded. “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.”

Image: Red Canary

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