A new piece of digitally signed spyware for Mac OS X uses a special Unicode character in its file name to hide its real file extension from users and trick them into installing it.
The malware, which has been dubbed Janicab.A, is written in Python and is packaged as a stand-alone Mac application using the py2app utility, researchers from security firm F-Secure said Monday in a blog post.
It is distributed as a file called "RecentNews.?fdp.app" where the "?" is actually the right-to-left override (RLO) character known as U+202E in the Unicode encoding standard.
Unicode supports characters from most languages, including those written from right to left like Arabic and Hebrew. The special RLO character tells software that the text following it should be displayed from right to left.
Apple displays double extensions for security reasons in the Mac OS X file manager, said Sean Sullivan, a security advisor at F-Secure, Tuesday via email. "Here, the RLO trick is being used to counter that and to make the .app appear to be a .pdf."
The trick itself is not new and has been used by Windows malware in the past, including by the Bredolab email spam malware and the Mahdi cyberespionage Trojan program that targeted computers in the Middle East.
Opening the Janicab .app file will trigger a standard Mac OS X pop-up dialog warning the user that the file was downloaded from the Internet. However, because of the RLO character in the file name, the entire warning text will be written right to left making it confusing and hard to read.
If users agree to open the file, the malware will install itself in a hidden folder in the user's home directory and will open a decoy PDF document containing what appears to be a news article in Russian.
Janicab continuously takes screenshots and records audio and uploads the collected data to C&C (command and control) servers that it finds by parsing the description of specific YouTube videos. It also queries the C&C servers for commands to execute, the F-Secure researchers said in the blog post.
Based on statistics for the YouTube videos whose descriptions are parsed by the malware, the malware's functionality and the contents of the decoy document, F-Secure researchers believe the malware is being used in targeted attacks, Sullivan said. However, the company doesn't have any information about the identity of the targets, he said.
Janicab samples were uploaded to the VirusTotal malware scanning service from five countries, but that information might reflect the locations of different security researchers, not victims, Sullivan said.
The malware's installer is digitally signed with a code-signing certificate -- an Apple Developer ID -- issued by Apple to a person named "Gladys Brady."
In May, security researchers found several samples of a Mac OS X backdoor-type program called KitM or HackBack, that were digitally signed with a valid Apple Developer ID issued to "Rajinder Kumar." One of those samples was collected from the Mac laptop of an Angolan activist attending the Oslo Freedom Forum, a human rights conference in Norway.
Researchers linked the KitM samples to a larger cyberespionage campaign of Indian origin dubbed Operation Hangover.
F-Secure reported the new certificate being abused by the Janicab malware to Apple, but has yet to receive confirmation of any action taken by the company, Sullivan said. "They quickly revoked the certificate in the previous KitM case," he said. "I have no doubt they'll also revoke this developer [ID] soon if they haven't already."
The F-Secure researchers believe that Apple is likely to create a removal tool for Janicab as it did for the "Pintsized" Mac OS X malware discovered in February.
"As the popularity of OS X continues to grow, Apple users have to get used to the fact that they will become targets for malware authors," said Gavin Millard, EMEA technical director at security firm Tripwire, via email. "Although the RLO (Right Left Override) approach of obfuscating the true extension of a file is simple to spot, users will still click, especially as they are not used to being targeted."