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Projecting your Mac from Unexpected Background Apps and processes

Every operating system, OS, developed today, has the capability to run processes in the background. The background processes control things like printing and network code which allows communication with the internet, to name a couple.

Mac OS X is no exception; It also allows background processes. For a more in-depth exploration of Background Processes in Mac OS X, check out Understanding Background Processes on the Mac.

The OS does not have exclusive use of background processes; sometimes applications have to watch for certain things to happen. This is often time best accomplished in a background process.

There a prescribed ways to “install” background processes. Most often, these background processes are installed into a select few folders. This allows processes to be activated every time a computer is turned on or restarted. Most of the methods of installing a background processes are pretty well insulated and hidden from end users. They would not even know that it got installed.

As with any tool, what can be used for good can also be used for evil. There has been a recent uptick of Malware on the Mac. The current version “tricks” people into updating a piece of software they have. When they “update” the software, they are really installing a background process that is up to no good. That is what is called social engineering.

Remember, these background processes can only be installed to a few folders. If these folders could be watched, then the user would know if a background process is being installed. On the Mac this can be accomplished using Applescript and another feature called folder actions.

Folder actions get attached to a certain folder and when something gets added to that folder, an action gets triggered. That is all well and good, but setting up this up is beyond the capabilities of most users.

That is were Computer Incident Response Center Luxembourg came in. CIRCL is the national Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT - CERT) coordination center for the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg. They have developed a developed a Folder Action to watch the folders where background processes are installed. That way, a user can be made aware when a new background process or App is installed. This tool can be downloaded from http://www.circl.lu/pub/tr-08/.

Keep in mind, this tool can not discern good from evil, that will take some thought on the users part. If the warning comes up while installing a software package, it would be worth sending an email to the producer of the software inquiring the reason for the background process.

Then again, if from out of the blue, a user is warned about a new background process being installed, they likely have been hit by some nefarious software and can reach out for help to get to the bottom of the issue.

Background processes are a necessary part of any OS. Just like any tool it can be used for good or evil. Using CIRCL tool to watch for the installation of background processes will allow users to be aware when background processes have been added to the Mac. This could be a flag for potential malware installation.

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