Using OS X FSEvents to Discover Deleted Malicious Artifacts

File System Events (FSEvents) in OS X 10.7+ introduced the capability to monitor changes to a directory. FSevents are logged by the file system events daemon (fseventsd) process; the daemon writes these events to a log file located in the root of each volume in a folder named “.fseventsd”, which acts as a staging or buffer area.  An application accesses these logs using the FSEvents API to immediately ‘see’ when an event modified a directory, including file creation, file modification, files deletion, etc.

Malware often attempts to remove traces of itself after execution and when it does, the File System Events (FSEvents) artifact can help us discover the existence of deleted files. Using this artifact we can obtain evidence of a file even after the malware has removed itself and traces of its execution. By parsing FSEvents logs we can easily obtain a full path, creation, and deletion dates for deleted files, long after a system was compromised.

While we can see historical changes, it is important to note that file system events do not live indefinitely in the “.fseventsd” folder as it merely acts as a staging area for OS X to keep track of file system changes. The lifespan of events are dictated by a 64-bit incrementing counter. CrowdStrike has observed four month old events on a typical system. This post will provide an overview of FSEvents as a forensic artifact.

When a FSEventStream is created, some flags are created by default but additional flags can be passed to indicate the type of action. A selection of possible flags that can be set when creating a FSEventStream can be seen in the table below:


FSEvent Stream EventFlag Description
None Default Flag. A change occurred in this directory but no event flag was set with this change.
MustScanSubDirs Informs the application needs to rescan the affected directory and subdirectories under it.
UserDropped Error occurred during setting flag, application should perform full scan of directory for changes.
KernelDropped Error occurred during setting flag, application should perform full scan of directory for changes.
EventIdsWrapped 64-bit event ID counter wrapped around, previously-issued event ID’s are no longer valid
HistoryDone Marker Flag to indicate when previous set flags should be ignored.
RootChanged Flag set when change occurred in a directory along the path of a watched directory.
Mount A volume was mounted under one that was being watched.
Unmount A volume was unmounted under one that was being watched.
ItemCreated Flag set when a file or directory is created
ItemRemoved Flag set when file or directory is deleted
ItemInodeMetaMod Flag set when inode metadata has been modified
ItemRenamed Flag set when file or directory is renamed
ItemModified Flag set when file or directory is modified
ItemFinderInfoMod File’s finder metadata was modified
ItemChangeOwner Owner of file or directory has been changed.
ItemXattrMod Extended attributes of file or directory modified
ItemIsFile Item is a file
ItemIsDir Item is a directory
ItemIsSymlink Item is a symbolic link

How to Parse FSEvents

FSEvents are logged in folder named .fseventsd at the top level of every volume. This folder is only root accessible and contains multiple gzipped files.

As an example, /Volumes/Macintosh HD/.fseventsd contains the FSEvents for my local hard drive.

These files are difficult to work with directly, as events are represented as a hex value. David Cowen released an excellent python based tool called FSEventsParser which can carve out FSEvent records from the gzipped files in the .fseventsd directory of a volume.


The parser outputs in both text and SQLite formats, but due to the file structure I find working with the SQLite file to be easier when performing queries.

Each record of output can contain these header values:


The reference for these values can be found on FSEventsParser’s Github page.

The records are stored in the “fsevents” table, and below is an example of a query for all events with the record_mask of “ItemRemoved”.

Williams-MBP:FSEventsParser williamtan$ sqlite3 fsevents.sqlite
SQLite version 2015-05-20 18:17:19
Enter “.help” for usage hints.
sqlite> .databases
seq name file
— ————— ———————————————————-
0 main /Users/williamtan/Desktop/FSEventsParser/fsevents.sqlite

sqlite> SELECT * FROM fsevents WHERE record_mask LIKE “ItemRemoved;”;
26118|4983|51|38400|575191|51929|576173|0000000000009600|/Volumes/Macintosh HD/.fseventsd|0x820193a3|2744320386
163723|4997|53|167716|533063|8976|533227|0000000000028f24|/Volumes/Macintosh HD/.fseventsd|0x29572659|1495684905
249174|511241|00000000006545fa|/Volumes/Macintosh HD/.fseventsd|0x1ef4eaeb|3958043678
249174|511241|00000000006545fa|/Volumes/Macintosh HD/.fseventsd|0x1ef4eaeb|3958043678

The parser output allows you to see a file path, date of event, type of action or event, and the process associated with this event.

Forensic Value – What should we be looking at?

Parsed FSEvents can exceed 1 million records so it is important to focus on narrowing down specific events of interest. While FSEvents might not be the first place to investigate suspicious activity, it has incredible value as a supplemental artifact that can help indicate the existence of a file and actions a user or application performed.

As an example, try filtering records for all plist files modified or created on a specific date. Plists are similar to registry hives in Windows, and for persistence OS X malware often creates plist files in /Library/LaunchAgents, Library/Preferences, /Library/LaunchDaemons, or /Library/Internet Plugins.

One shortcoming of FSevent records is they do not include timestamps. This is because FSEventStreams does not log the exact timestamp, as the API’s expected usage is for an application to query all ordered events after a time or id.

FSEventsParser is able to approximate an event’s occurrence by extracting the filename date from the Apple System Log file that was modified/created within an FSEvents file.

Although FSEvents is a valuable artifact enabled by default, it is also it is possible to disable FSEvents completely. This is done by creating a .fseventsd directory at the top level of the volume and then creating an empty no_log file in that directory. From our analysis of thousands of enterprise OS X systems, we have rarely observed this practice.

Using FSEvents to detect OS X Malware

As an example, let’s use FSEventsparser to identify a piece of malware called OSX/Iworm. Iworm is an OS X Trojan that connects infected hosts to a botnet by fetching IP addresses from social media website Reddit.

After unleashing the Iworm on a virtual machine, we executed FSEventsParser on the system. Since malware often uses launch daemons as a persistence mechanism, we searched FSEventsParser on changes to folders /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/ and/Library/LaunchDaemons. Our search returned /Library/LaunchDaemons/com.JawaW.plist was created on 2/1/2016. Filtering on event flags ItemCreated, ItemModified, and ItemIsfile shows us multiple files were also created on the same date in a newly created folder /Library/Application Support/JavaW.


With a date and malware locations in hand, we can pivot on these artifacts to further identify the source of the compromise.

Closing thoughts

As enterprises adopt more Mac endpoints in their environment, the requirement for OS X forensic analysis will only become more prevalent. FSEvents is a valuable supplemental artifact to identify and investigate malicious artifacts that may no longer exist. This can play a major role in many different investigation types when other artifacts may not provide sufficient evidence.

CrowdStrike now offers an OS X version of Falcon Host to assist and support Mac users for protecting their endpoints from today’s cyber attacks. Falcon Host’s ability to stop malware and non-malware attacks — along with the ability to act as a DVR for the endpoint to discover and investigate current and historic endpoint activity in seconds — augments the OS X features outlined in this blog for identifying and stopping malicious activity.


Related Content