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Over the past decade, the world has seen advances in rootkits running on Windows and Unix operating systems that few would have thought possible. Now, it's Mac OS X's turn, as a security researcher plans to share a variety of techniques for developing the ultra-stealthy programs for the Apple platform.

At a talk titled Advanced Mac OS X rootkits at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas next week, researcher Dino Dai Zovi plans to discuss specific features in the OS that make it possible to write rootkits that are virtually impossible for untrained users to detect.

"Most of the existing research (into) rootkits for OS X essentially take older Unix-based ideas and port them to OS X," Dai Zovi told The Register. "Mine primarily uses the unique features of OS X and this makes it harder to detect the traditional tools and techniques."

As just another Mach-based operating system, OS X is chock full of instructions that make sneaky rootkits possible. And yet there's been little documentation, so far, of exactly what they are and how they can be used. Dai Zovi's talk aims to fill the vacuum by showing how to extend native Mach RPC mechanisms that communicate with the Mac kernel.

"It's not an inherent weakness in the system," said Dai Zovi, co-author of the Mac Hacker's Handbook. "It's just extending the flexibility of the microkernel-based design in a malicious direction."

Dai Zovi also plans to deliver a much shorter "turbo talk" discussing ways penetration testers can test the security of Macs using the Metasploit Project. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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