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Launchctl controls the macOS launchd process which handles things like launch agents and launch daemons, but can execute other commands or programs itself. Launchctl supports taking subcommands on the command-line, interactively, or even redirected from standard input. By loading or reloading launch agents or launch daemons, adversaries can install persistence or execute changes they made [1]. Running a command from launchctl is as simple as launchctl submit -l -- /Path/to/thing/to/execute "arg" "arg" "arg". Loading, unloading, or reloading launch agents or launch daemons can require elevated privileges.

Adversaries can abuse this functionality to execute code or even bypass whitelisting if launchctl is an allowed process.

ID: T1152
Tactic: Defense Evasion, Execution, Persistence
Platform: macOS
Permissions Required: User, Administrator
Data Sources: File monitoring, Process monitoring, Process command-line parameters
Defense Bypassed: Application whitelisting, Process whitelisting, Whitelisting by file name or path
Version: 1.0

Procedure Examples

Name Description
Calisto Calisto uses launchctl to enable screen sharing on the victim’s machine. [2]


Mitigation Description
User Account Management Prevent users from installing their own launch agents or launch daemons and instead require them to be pushed out by group policy.


Knock Knock can be used to detect persistent programs such as those installed via launchctl as launch agents or launch daemons. Additionally, every launch agent or launch daemon must have a corresponding plist file on disk somewhere which can be monitored. Monitor process execution from launchctl/launchd for unusual or unknown processes.