Cryptojacking Mac malware “Honkbox” found in pirated apps
Posted on March 9th, 2023 by Joshua Long
Over the past couple weeks, multiple reports about cryptojacking and cryptocurrency-stealing Mac malware have surfaced. Apple calls this Trojan horse malware “Honkbox.”
Let’s examine what we know about this malware, and how to safely remove it from infected systems.
In this article:
- What is Honkbox’s history, and how was it discovered?
- What does Honkbox do to an infected computer?
- Who created Honkbox malware?
- What else is noteworthy about Honkbox malware?
- How can one remove or prevent Honkbox and other Mac malware?
- Honkbox indicators of compromise (IoCs)
- Is Honkbox known by any other names?
- How can I learn more?
What is Honkbox’s history, and how was it discovered?
Early last year, on February 21, 2022, Trend Micro researcher Luis Magisa wrote what may have been the first public report about the malware that later became known as Honkbox. Magisa described the malware as the “latest Mac coinminer,” noting that it “utilizes open-source binaries and the I2P network” (more on that in a moment).
On February 23, 2023, Jamf researchers published their own research, calling it “evasive cryptojacking malware” found in pirated Mac apps. According to their report, Jamf had been tracking recent developments of the malware family for a few months prior to publishing their research. Intego had also internally analyzed many Honkbox-related coin-miner malware samples months prior to Jamf’s write-up.
New variants of this malware initially came on Jamf’s radar during routine threat hunting, when they noticed that a Trojanized version of Apple’s Final Cut Pro included XMRig, which is cross-platform cryptocurrency mining software. (As an aside, Intego has previously written about a PUA in the Mac App Store that utilized similar mining software, XMR-Stak, in violation of Apple’s policies.)
The malware also employed Invisible Internet Project (I2P, or I2PD) technology (similar to Tor) to mask its bad network behavior, which included downloading payloads and sending any mined cryptocurrency to the malware maker. Notably, this is—to our recollection, and that of other researchers—likely the first Mac malware that has leveraged I2P. Both I2PD and XMRig are open-source utilities.
Jamf’s research team was able to locate the malware sample in the wild via a mirror of The Pirate Bay, a BitTorrent file distribution site. The same user who had shared the pirated and Trojanized copy of Final Cut Pro had also been offering a number of other apps illegitimately since August 2019. Some of these Trojan horses have included Apple’s Logic Pro X, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Zii (a product activator), Ableton Live, as well as CleanMyMac X. SentinelOne’s Phil Stokes points to a November 1, 2019 Reddit post as the first known public request for help from a Honkbox-infected user.
Over time, the malware maker had found new ways of disguising its malicious behavior to better avoid detection by common antivirus software, such as the following example. Because crypto-mining takes a lot of processing power and can cause a computer to slow down significantly, the malware developer added a function to watch for the user to open Activity Monitor. Then, if the malware detected that Activity Monitor was open, it would instantly terminate the mining processes to prevent the user from figuring out what was causing the system slowdown. And, just in case the user were to use a third-party process monitor, the malware also disguised its processes in plain sight by naming them after legitimate Spotlight system processes,
Following Jamf’s report, Apple added signatures for this malware to XProtect, a bare-bones “anti-malware” feature built into macOS; Stokes noted that this was the first time in months (three months and twelve days, to be exact, between November 10 and February 22) since the last time Apple had updated its signatures. (This, by the way, is just one reason why it’s so important to use Mac antivirus software; Apple’s built-in protection is minimal, incomplete, and rarely updated.) While Trend Micro and Jamf hadn’t given the malware a unique name of its own, Apple first called it “HONKBOX” in its signatures, with three sub-variants: A, B, and C. Stokes did his own deep dive into the Honkbox malware, published on March 1.
What does Honkbox do to an infected computer?
Honkbox malware is distributed via Trojanized, pirated software. Its primary purpose seems to be using victims’ (pirates’) computers to mine for cryptocurrency on behalf on the malware maker. Cryptojacking—that is, unauthorized use of a computing device to mine for cryptocurrency—has a tendency to cause infected devices to slow down significantly. Cryptojacker malware may also cause devices to overheat.
Early variants of Honkbox established persistence, meaning they could relaunch themselves after an infected Mac had restarted. More recent Honkbox variants are stealthier, opting to only reactivate when a victim opens (or attempts to use) the pirated software. The malware intentionally tries to hide itself by using Apple process names, and also by suspending its mining processes whenever the user opens Activity Monitor to try to figure out why their system is running slowly.
Who created Honkbox malware?
The Pirate Bay user named “wtfisthat34698409672” is one known distributor of the malware. Given that Honkbox’s primary purpose appears to be cryptomining on behalf of the malware’s maker, it seems very likely that this user either is, or is a close associate of, the malware developer.
Mac malware developers these days typically code-sign (and get Apple to notarize) their malware to ensure that it will work properly on the latest versions of macOS. One Apple Developer ID that signed a variant of this malware used the name “Mucke N.S. Doo,” which is probably not a real name.
What else is noteworthy about Honkbox malware?
In macOS Ventura, it’s more difficult for a maliciously modified (Trojanized) app to run. Many of the pirated apps will refuse to run on macOS Ventura, although the malware itself does successfully run. This should seem suspicious to the user, but by the time they realize they’ve been duped, the malware has already started running on their system.
Users of macOS Ventura may see a dialog box similar to the following when a Trojanized app fails its code-signing check:
“Final Cut Pro” is damaged and can’t be opened. You should move it to the Trash.
This file was downloaded on an unknown date.
(Move to Trash) (Cancel)
Interestingly, the B and C variants do not install methods of persistence, meaning that the malware won’t automatically launch itself again after each reboot. Instead, the malware maker opted to make these variants run only when the user launches the Trojanized app. Due to the aforementioned changes in macOS Ventura, the malware will be active for much less time on Ventura than when run on previous macOS versions.
The fact that macOS Ventura users have somewhat increased protection against harmful app modifications is one of many reasons why running the latest version of macOS is essential for your security.
As mentioned previously, Honkbox seems to be the first Mac malware to leverage I2P, the Invisible Internet Project, as a means of hiding its network traffic. Magisa noted that in years past, some previous Mac malware has utilized Tor (aka TOR, The Onion Router) for this purpose, including KeRanger and Eleanor (2016) and Dok (2017).
How can one remove or prevent Honkbox and other Mac malware?
Intego VirusBarrier X9, included with Intego’s Mac Premium Bundle X9, can protect against, detect, and eliminate Mac malware. Intego software detects components of this threat under the names OSX/Honkbox, OSX/CoinMiner, OSX/Miner, and OSX/Agent.
If you believe your Mac may be infected, or to prevent future infections, it’s best to use antivirus software from a trusted Mac developer. VirusBarrier is award-winning antivirus software, designed by Mac security experts, that includes real-time protection. It runs natively on a wide range of Mac hardware and operating systems, including the latest Apple silicon Macs running macOS Ventura.
If you use a Windows PC, Intego Antivirus for Windows can keep your computer protected from PC malware.
In general, it’s always a good idea to avoid downloading software (or other potentially pirated content) from torrents. See our related article about how torrent sites are a malware cesspool.
Note: Intego customers running VirusBarrier X8, X7, or X6 on older versions of Mac OS X are also protected from this threat. It is best to upgrade to the latest versions of VirusBarrier and macOS, if possible, to ensure your Mac gets all the latest security updates from Apple.
Honkbox indicators of compromise (IoCs)
Magisa and Stokes note the following file paths associated with Honkbox malware. Note that the tilde (~) indicates a particular user’s home folder, for example
~/.i2pd/tunnels.conf ~/.i2pd/tunnels.d /Library/LaunchDaemons/com.ableton.LiveEventd.plist /Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.acc.installer.v1.plist /private/tmp/com.apple.acc.installer.v1.plist /private/tmp/i2pd/._pid /private/tmp/installv3_md5 /private/tmp/installv3.sh /private/tmp/lauth /usr/local/bin/com.apple.acc.installer.v1 /usr/local/bin/com.adobe.acc.localhost /usr/local/bin/com.adobe.acc.network /usr/local/bin/liveeventd /usr/local/bin/liveeventd.sh /usr/local/bin/livelocalserviced
Files with the following 177 hashes have been identified as affiliated with Honkbox-related malware campaigns:
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e72ac7d99fa1f7c43b88058df8396965b4fa7089264a51950c94d53efb297558 e97758623aea98e0733b43666b5f112e40edac7ee1f9a916ca83581e0187abae e9e2b8684c966d65e4b0d3db7956344b0291c99b2473a4384d4a4e59a6f052c2 ea28251de6a09d19f8cff7fe366c35d3826c10544a3a45426369aaf9e4b2050d ec606d39fdf5359af96e40cfc1f226b70e7ee2ff68925eb7ad71f20c395dbab1 ee0a287d2923c57ac96e30f0da015f1e01c93c5c806aeb91e680c56aa6df1266 f24da6301f95432a63eb98f8954e1da6f7275b73d0bde76052d66a6d2e587df5 f5e57974a654c196e62e23d9282b21d5e41c8fbb0dd3a072316d4f3da3b1b5ba f6c55df67f126d39424c087cd359d7cb30a796b637b8a2fb9f409c9c98fcde7d f7106ee5c184bd764b94faba0d926fce48654320456fd7fd30751c56bd9f707b fa63f4b05c71e8f02275b590a560c24740ca88268a1a62cd80a9174e188f484f faabe528449d14515ae25c8a8e5abd7d76e6b9acf25635929dea031e30db831c fabe0b41fb5bce6bda8812197ffd74571fc9e8a5a51767bcceef37458e809c5c fcc902dd3ae5a1413607c3493617f33a4b2dbf03f861c18afc32821b8d47da81 fd947019a2b3269d5ba1fb7a1314e4030cfd2f3dbb3049b4f7495f7966a493c4 fe3700a52e86e250a9f38b7a5a48397196e7832fd848a7da3cc02fe52f49cdcf ffc8cc1badc17c408b5e0e7045abbefa05ac2200c057997136880a8695f5656c 048a93a696f1bf0bdf6f6e3506d65d21a4a9f681 05b7e1864b7b570a339c8072830cdd9bcbf21d1a 0cc8e03a08baa73379ac6c55cbb18fa78b87923d 0e73071ceb9d2481361777b33b8443ec0acb0793 11e4f795551e6db0fe9a9c52eec35f134b089478 11ee7a59ecd287628ff251b435777f6d4429e40c 140790186d0c60a604c5dd9f9d2c8dbc500da1c9 163d9ce53deadd54ad50d7d0120b5db550724689 33d79b8ee94f7bd0a542863cd5a8926d8e0263d9 3a714063188b24f0392c163d7910be00216a5f04 4f0ba59e2ee80ff854bca33944f825d4c8cfe23e 5aae6e00b3ab0b32a8c75a2952674d7665b3f705 5eb0e95aa6cc68ec05103561b02d38d4f69e4980 62ed66c1835ef5558ce713467f837efde508d5e4 699da2b8d35f344121d93a74adf89349d3c8d922 6b987ffc3fd6a2bcfb931426be4118cd943737da 7312b319b84be6bde845b10ea61619c33473f784 7da20852d79f7443b88449e8ed18e092c2aaa3bb 828fb69b80e60de6f6206fd63b496cc0923082f4 8e4dff96e1740764d60fbff8cfae8c673f1a7a3f 901a08aa9996fa95e4a844c24eb7b81da0b52923 90835a1173e9ed414e8240d0e14acb13f73f642f 9e04ca30e6ae20e8d2bbf2772a93145bd4b5b8c6 9e387d79fd6412715a5a4bca02b7e27a08299c4b a72b548ca570d8c74ed4c465716c4e37328f9bc1 b48927641b53e363d7183fe7faaaa7be8b01cec9 b5dd15e765ed5839a7d2c16c50e6cf3334c4b894 be30f974111ad50312f654db9e040c6ab99d054c c3d062bc3fa3b4ecfc68e69a7dc26d9e0ac56538 c5b34662f22f35f3995144b24015309bbe318cd9 c64c21d2e08cb8a28e31c4d883a1e75fd1c7851b c8d230830d0912236c48c31ad11b93707088ce9f cc9afb9efea37aee31cd74fb064de4b732fb84b3 d4d1c97c5803162e452c79811d61e1487c9cfe62 dfcf0b6af4593f32060176768164702f45cb556b e857a9c520402ccc6abe3244c1e93ac9e2a6ac3d eb3a1808bd24026314bec69caadbc882f1976982 ebd417f4ab9e7bb6deaacab9de1611df67908317 ecffd9553c67478a55f7303f6cadf356101f9216 f35bddfbb82ae1b137cbd454bc18f2b859cc5882
Note that the first 137 file hashes listed above are SHA-256 hashes; the corresponding files are all available to security researchers via VirusTotal, except for one from Magisa’s report, namely
c0c4826e513239094c63382b5a726e056ae7f7759abc56bf807748ecfbfbb284. The next batch of 40 shorter SHA-1 hashes were included in Jamf’s write-up but were not available on VirusTotal at the time of this blog post’s publication.
Apple Developer IDs including the following have been used as part of this campaign:
MUCKE N.S. DOO (XFQL4XQZYW) F2P859A6Z6
Command-and-control (C&C) domains and IP addresses that have been associated with related malware include:
banana.incognet[.]io download.xxlspeed[.]com i2p.mooo[.]com i2p.novg[.]net i2pseed.creativecowpat[.]net netdb.i2p2[.]no reseed-fr.i2pd[.]xyz reseed.diva[.]exchange reseed.i2p-projekt[.]de reseed.i2pgit[.]org reseed.memcpy[.]io reseed.onion[.]im reseed2.i2p[.]net thepureland[.]io 162.55.188[.]117 167.235.233[.]5 193.168.141[.]107
A number of Dropbox URLs have reportedly hosted related Mac malware; these URLs are no longer active:
www.dropbox[.]com/s/1qo9cozv8srnx2x/PureLand%20Launcher.pkg?dl=1 www.dropbox[.]com/s/37vvqyjx6qi43ex/PureLand%20Launcher.pkg?dl=1 www.dropbox[.]com/s/3yivn8j36ramnvg/Pure%20Land%20Launcher.pkg?dl=1 www.dropbox[.]com/s/tmfj1iemicvu6t0/PureLand%20Launcher.pkg?dl=1
Network administrators can check recent network traffic logs to try to identify whether any computers on their network may have attempted to contact these domains, IPs, or URLs, which could indicate a possible infection.
Is Honkbox known by any other names?
Prior to Apple giving it the name Honkbox, this malware was mostly known by generic “CoinMiner” or “Miner” monikers.
While investigating other recent malware campaigns, our malware research team observed that a cryptocurrency stealer malware family that’s being called PureLand (or Vakksdr Stealer) matched our existing signatures for Honkbox. Therefore we have realigned our detection and consider these recent PureLand samples to be part of the Honkbox family. The lists of SHA-256 hashes, domains, IPs, and URLs above includes some related to PureLand. (Stokes initially connected Honkbox and PureLand as well, but later backtracked after Intego published this report, so this possible relationship between the PureLand and Honkbox families is disputed.)
Other vendors’ names for threat components related to this malware campaign may include variations of the following, among others:
A Variant Of OSX/CoinMiner.AC, A Variant Of OSX/CoinMiner.AD, A Variant Of OSX/CoinMiner.Q, A Variant Of OSX/CoinMiner.W, Application.MAC.Miner.AJB, Coinminer.MacOS.MALXMR.H, Gen:Variant.Trojan.MAC.PureLand.1 (2x), HackTool.XMRMiner!1.ADCC (CLASSIC), HEUR:Trojan-Dropper.OSX.Agent.gen, HEUR:Trojan-Dropper.OSX.Agent.m, HEUR:Trojan-Dropper.OSX.Padzer.e, HEUR:Trojan-Dropper.OSX.Padzer.f, HEUR:Trojan-PSW.OSX.Pureland.gen, Honkbox_A, Honkbox_B, Honkbox_C, MacOS:Agent-JM [Trj], MacOS:Agent-JQ [Trj], MacOS:Agent-WN [Drp], MacOS:Agent-XI [Trj], MACOS.HONKBOX.A, MACOS.HONKBOX.B, MACOS.HONKBOX.C, MacOS/CoinMiner.A, Malware.MacOS-Script.Save.e4825366, Malware.OSX/Agent.ctche, Malware.OSX/Agent.jfggl, Malware.OSX/Agent.zobat, Multios.Coinminer.Miner-6781728-2, OSX_CoinMiner.PFL, OSX.Trojan.Agent.5V7AH3, Osx.Trojan.Coinminer.Bgow, OSX.Trojan.Gen.2, OSX/Agent.CJ, OSX/Agent.G!tr, OSX/Agent.gixtd, OSX/Agent.wguen, OSX/CoinMine-BU, OSX/CoinMine-CS, OSX/CoinMiner.bdmlu, OSX/CoinMiner.ext, OSX/CoinMiner.pjtut, OSX/CoinMiner.qfokr, OSX/Honkbox.ext, OSX/Miner.AC!tr, OSX/Miner.gen, OSX/Miner.qt, OSX/Miner.shell, Other:Malware-gen [Trj], Password-Stealer (0040f1771), PUA.MacOS.PURPLEPROXY.MANP, PUA.MacOS.PURPLEPROXY.MSGEM20, RDN/Generic.osx, Riskware/Application!OSX, Script.Trojan.A7586096, TROJ_FRS.0NA103BM22, TROJ_FRS.0NA104A223, Trojan (0040f28a1), Trojan:MacOS/Multiverze, Trojan:MacOS/SAgent!MTB, trojan:OSX/Honkbox.ext, trojan:OSX/PureLand.ext, Trojan.CoinMiner.OSX.44, Trojan.Generic.D3056588, Trojan.Generic.D3EB7491, Trojan.GenericKD.50685320, Trojan.GenericKD.65762449, Trojan.I2pdMiner/OSX!1.D989, Trojan.MAC.Generic.111680, Trojan.MAC.Generic.111683, Trojan.MAC.Generic.111728, Trojan.MAC.Generic.111730, Trojan.MAC.Generic.11970, Trojan.MAC.Generic.D1B440, Trojan.MAC.Generic.D1B443, Trojan.MAC.Generic.D1B470, Trojan.MAC.Generic.D2EC2, Trojan.MAC.Miner.AF, Trojan.MAC.Miner.AS, Trojan.MAC.Miner.AT, Trojan.MacOS.PADZER.MANP, Trojan.MacOS.PADZER.MSMEK20, Trojan.MacOS.PADZER.MSMH321, Trojan.MacOS.PADZER.RSMSMEL20, Trojan.Malware.121218.susgen, Trojan.OSX.Agent.4!c, Trojan.OSX.Coinminer, Trojan.OSX.Generic.4!c, Trojan.Shell.Agent.cp, Trojan.Shell.Agent.CQ, Trojan.Win32.SHELL.VSNW05C23, Trojan/Bash.Generic.SC186845, Trojan/OSX.CoinMiner
How can I learn more?
For additional technical information about the Honkbox malware, including reverse-engineering analyses, you can refer to the detailed write-ups by Luis Magisa of Trend Micro, Matt Benyo, Ferdous Saljooki, and Jaron Bradley of Jamf and Phil Stokes of SentinelOne. See also Stokes’ follow-up tweets. We also acknowledge the research into PureLand from Daniel Stinson (see his tweet thread and hash list) and iamdeadlyz (see their tweet thread and write-up).
We briefly discussed Honkbox on episode 281 of the Intego Mac Podcast:
Each week on the Intego Mac Podcast, Intego’s Mac security experts discuss the latest Apple news, including security and privacy stories, and offer practical advice on getting the most out of your Apple devices. Be sure to follow the podcast to make sure you don’t miss any episodes.
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