A Mac malware that’s been spying on biomedical research centers may have been circulating undetected for years, according to new research.
Antivirus vendor Malwarebytes uncovered the malicious code, after an IT administrator spotted unusual network traffic coming from an infected Mac.
The malware, which Apple calls Fruitfly, is designed to take screen captures, access the Mac’s webcam, and simulate mouse clicks and key presses, allowing for remote control by a hacker, Malwarebytes said in a blog post on Wednesday.
The security firm said that neither it nor Apple has identified how the malware has been spreading. But whoever designed it relied on “ancient” coding functions, dating back before the Mac OS X operating system launch in 2001, said Malwarebytes researcher Thomas Reed in the blog post.
Surprisingly, Fruitfly is also built with Linux shell commands. Reed said he tried running the malware on a Linux machine and found that everything “ran just fine” except for Mac-specific code.
The old coding, along with the Linux commands, suggest that the malware’s makers maybe didn’t "know the Mac very well and were relying on old documentation" to develop it, Reed wrote.
Security researchers have said Mac malware is rare. Hackers generally focus on attacking Windows-based devices, because there are far more of them.
This particular Mac malware is easy to spot, according to Reed. It comes in two files, one of which acts as a launch agent.
Nevertheless, Malwarebytes found evidence suggesting that Fruitfly has been infecting Macs undetected for at least few years. For instance, a change made to the malicious coding was done to address OS X Yosemite, which was launched in Oct. 2014.
Reed said this malware has remained undetected probably because it’s been used “in very tightly targeted attacks, limiting its exposure.”
He speculates the malware was designed for espionage, given that it was found targeting biomedical research institutions. Once the malware infects a Mac, it will also attempt to retrieve information on local network and other devices connected to it.
Apple has already released an update that protects Macs from Fruitfly infections.