macOS High Sierra Logs External Volume Passwords in Plaintext
In macOS High Sierra, the passwords used for Apple File System (APFS)-encrypted external drives are logged and kept in on-disk log files, a security researcher has discovered.
The APFS file system was introduced by Apple with the release of macOS High Sierra and is automatically applied to the startup volume when the platform High Sierra is installed on a computer with a solid-state drive (SSD).
According to Apple, APFS provides strong encryption, fast directory sizing, space sharing, and improved file system fundamentals.
The newly discovered vulnerability, Sarah Edwards reveals, impacts macOS 10.13 platform versions. Initially found when creating a new APFS volume, the bug appears to occur when encrypting previously created but unencrypted volumes as well.
What the expert observed was that the password used for a newly created APFS-formatted FileVault Encrypted USB drive via Disk Utility could be found in unified logs in plaintext.
“The newfs_apfs command can take a passphrase as a parameter using the mostly undocumented “-S” flag. It is not documented in the man page. However when run without parameters, it will show it,” Edwards notes.
The vulnerability was initially discovered on a system running macOS High Sierra 10.13.1. To reproduce it, one would have to create a “clean” flash drive using Disk Utility.app.
The researcher formatted the drive “Mac OS Extended (Journaled),” but the issue appears with other base formats as well.
Next, one would have to create an Encrypted APFS volume on the drive, using the menu option “Erase” and wait for the process to complete.
Keeping an eye on the unified logs in the Terminal while the operation is being performed reveals the selected password in plaintext.
The issue appears to have been fixed in High Sierra 10.13.2, but only for newly created volumes. Thus, the vulnerability can still be triggered when encrypting an already existing unencrypted APFS volume in macOS 10.13.3, the researcher says.
By exploiting this issue, an attacker could view the encryption password of encrypted APFS external volumes on USB drives, portable hard disks, and other external drives.
In October last year, a developer in Brazil discovered that macOS High Sierra leaked the passwords for encrypted APFS volumes via the password hint. The developer discovered the bug after using the Disk Utility to add a new encrypted APFS volume to the container.
Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.