Screenshot of virus-detecting program.

Enlarge / A screenshot of VirusTotal showing only two AV providers detected malware, four weeks after it was outed. (credit: Patrick Wardle)

Four months after a mysterious group was outed for a digital espionage operation that used novel techniques to target Mac users, its macOS malware samples continued to go undetected by most antivirus providers, a security researcher reported on Thursday.

Windshift is what researchers refer to as an APT—short for “advanced persistent threat”—that surveils individuals in the Middle East. The group operated in the shadows for two years until August, when Taha Karim, a researcher at security firm DarkMatter, profiled it at the Hack in the Box conference in Singapore. Slides, a brief description, and a report from Forbes are here, here and here, respectively.

A few things make Windshift stand out among APTs, Karim reported in August. One is how rarely the group infects its targets with malware. Instead, it relies on links inside phishing emails and SMS text messages to track the locations, online habits, and other traits of the targets. Another unusual characteristic: in the extremely rare cases Windshift uses Mac malware to steal documents or take screenshots of targets’ desktops, it relies on a novel technique to bypass macOS security defenses. (The above-linked Forbes article has more on how this technique, known as a custom URL scheme, allows attacker-controlled sites to automatically install their malware on targeted Macs.)

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