KeRanger ransomware, an attempt at detection & removal via the JSS

Screenshot 2016-03-07 14.31.40

Transmission is a popular BitTorrent client for Mac, over the weekend it emerged that a version of their app available from the projects website had been swapped with another version.

This version contained the KeRanger ransomware, this seems to be the first functioning example of ransomware affecting OS X.

Below is more information, as well as a script that should alert or clean up affected Macs.

What Happened?

The story of what happened is written up here, (amongst numerous other sources).

I’ll not recap that here, but please read that post as i’ll reference it throughout this one.

Once I digested the above, I was on the hunt for an affected copy of the app to run on a VM to see if how I could detect & maybe remove the malware.

Luckily, I had a VM that had been powered off for a while & as such did not have the most up to date XProtect data to block the app.

Before we proceed, another post you should read is Tim Sutton’s post here.

TL:DR, If you’re disabling SoftwareUpdate’s schedule, you might be putting your Macs at risk of things such as KeRanger etc.

Some Things To Mention

Below are several points that I feel are worth mentioning as they help explain the method to the madness that is the script in the following section.


At this point you might just think detection via the JSS is simply a matter of a Smart Group looking for 2.90, RONG.

By default the JSS gathers inventory for apps in the below locations:

Screenshot 2016-03-06 21.43.48

So if the app your looking for is anywhere else, you JSS will not pick it up unless you have added additional paths under the above.

The above can be located at the following in the JSS: Computer Management > Computer Inventory Collection > Software.

GateKeeper & XProtect will protect us!

Again, RONG.

If a copy of the infected app was ran before XProtect was updated, the app will still be able to run as it’s quarantine flags have been removed & so it will not come under their scrutiny again.

However, if the Mac has the latest XProtect definitions & then attempts to run the app then the app will be blocked by XProtect:

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 02.04.51

But, Apple pulled the dev cert!

Yes they did, but again with the quarantine flags removed the app will not come under the scrutiny of GateKeeper or XProtect & so can still run.

The below is the output of spctl on the VM, which the assessment failed the app would still run due to the quarantine flags having been removed:

Screenshot 2016-03-07 00.37.34

Closing The Stable Door After The Horse Has Bolted

Essentially that above heading is what GateKeeper & XProtect protection amount to once the app has been run or the Mac infected.


It’s worth a note about AutoPKG recipes & this situation.

If a recipe is for a signed app, then CodeSignatureVerifier should be added to the recipe.

With those fields set, AutoPKG will then verify the code signature of the app against what’s in the recipe & fail if it finds a difference.

So, if downloading Transmission via an AutoPKG recipe please verify that it uses CodeSignatureVerifier & if it doesn’t log an issue with the author.

Restricted Software

One last thing we could do as JSS Admins is to add the kernel_service under “Restricted Software” as this seems to be the service that KeRanger runs under, but this will still not cure the patient & so I’ve not gone down that route.

Well, none of my Users are admins.. So we’re OK.


The below is taken from the Palo Alto article, linked at the top of this post:

After connecting to the C2 server and retrieving an encryption key, the executable will traverse the “/Users” and “/Volumes” directories, encrypt all files under “/Users”, and encrypt all files under “/Volumes” which have certain file extensions.

There are 300 different extensions specified by the malware, including:

    .doc, .docx, .docm, .dot, .dotm, .ppt, .pptx, .pptm, .pot, .potx, .potm, .pps, .ppsm, .ppsx, .xls, .xlsx, .xlsm, .xlt, .xltm, .xltx, .txt, .csv, .rtf, .tex</li><li>Images: .jpg, .jpeg

Audio and video:
    .mp3, .mp4, .avi, .mpg, .wav, .flac</li><li>Archives: .zip, .rar., .tar, .gzip</li><li>Source code: .cpp, .asp, .csh, .class, .java, .lua</li><li>Database: .db, .sql

Email: .eml

Certificate: .pem
NOTE: "the executable will traverse the “/Users” and “/Volumes” directories, encrypt all files under “/Users”, and encrypt all files under “/Volumes” which have certain file extensions."

Typically the encryption starts after 3 days of being infected, but there may be more aggressive variants out there.

Due to the above, detecting the app in only /Applications/ is not enough.

Won’t FileVault2 help?


FileVault2 is full volume encryption & the volumes are unlocked when a user logs in, which means that the files are still vulnerable to this.

FileVault2 is not an anti-malware tool.

The Method

So the below is a breakdown of the script I wrote to try & detect & remove KeRanger.

Active EA

This is a script to be run as an EA, it’s an ‘Active-EA’ & will have a value when something has been found or done.

I took this approach to then be able to setup a Smart Group with the JSS notifying of any changes to group & keeping things self contained.

Smart Group

Below is an example of the Smart Group’s scope:

Screenshot 2016-03-07 15.32.21


The script logs it’s actions to /Library/Logs/KeRanger-Remove.log, these are timestamped with the logs contents being read into the EA as per:

Screenshot 2016-03-07 15.36.01

Gimme some main

I’ll now run through the scripts main block, step by step to advise what it’s doing & why.


This returns the time that the EA was run, this is used for some date comparisons later on.


The path of the log file mentioned above.


This configures the logging for the EA.

os.system(‘killall -9 kernel_service’)

The script kills the ‘kernel_service’ process, no fancy checks to see if it’s running.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 23.59.17 2


This function checks to see if the log file for the EA exists, if it does not it enables Automatic Checking in SoftwareUpdate.plist & then tries to update XProtect via:

softwareupdate --background-critical

The log file check is so that the EA only enables the automatic check once in case it’s wanted to be removed later, but you really shouldn’t disable it.

Enabling this does bring the software update nags though but is the only way to update XProtect:

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 00.15.22


This will check each account in for /Users/*/Library/.kernel_time, if found gets encryption time from within the file & calculates 3 days from that.

The compare the date in 3 days from the time in the file against the value of RUN_TIME & will log if the EA thinks that the User might have had some files encrypted.

This is a bit of guess work though.

Lastly, it deletes the /Users/*/Library/.kernel_time files.


Check for /Users/*/Library/.kernel_pid, if found gets the pid & kills the process & deletes the file.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 00.05.00

The above is a Composer snapshot taken after infecting my VM.


Checks for all Transmission apps, gets version & if 2.90 checks for General.rtf file within the app bundle. If found deletes app bundle.

Only some copies of 2.90 were affected & there are some perfectly safe copies of 2.90 out there so no need to delete them.


Checks for DMGs named ‘Transmission*.dmg’ & re-quarantines, this coupled with this means that previously opened versions of the app that are infected will be blocked by XProtect (as long as clients can get the needed config-data).

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 02.04.51

The above is what you’ll see when trying to launch an affected app from a DMG that has been re-quarantined.

Yep the dates a bit back to the future past, but it works.


This is the date that the log file was modified.

if ==

If the log file was modified today, it’s contents are read into the EA.

The Script

The script should display below, but can be found here.


Thanks to the team at Palo Alto for their great post & many folks in the Slack for the pointers.

Next Steps

Really, we should have clients regularly pulling config-data for things from Apple. Despite the recent issue with a bad update from Apple.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 00.14.34

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 23.57.49 2

If you deploy Transmission to your Macs, update them to 2.92 ASAP, being mindful of the AutoPKG recipe you may use.

Removal From Smart Group

To remove a client from the Smart Group, remove from the Mac any Transmission DMG’s & then empty the contents of the log file, then run recon.

They will only be re-added to the smart group if something triggers one of the above actions which are then logged.

One thought on “KeRanger ransomware, an attempt at detection & removal via the JSS

  1. Install apps only from official sites or the Mac App Store: Installing software from untrusted sources is risky, because you can’t be sure what you’ll get. Torrented software could be bundled with ransomware, for example. It’s safer to stick to official websites or the App Store.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.