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

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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