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Launch Agent

Per Apple’s developer documentation, when a user logs in, a per-user launchd process is started which loads the parameters for each launch-on-demand user agent from the property list (plist) files found in /System/Library/LaunchAgents, /Library/LaunchAgents, and $HOME/Library/LaunchAgents [1] [2] [3]. These launch agents have property list files which point to the executables that will be launched [4].

Adversaries may install a new launch agent that can be configured to execute at login by using launchd or launchctl to load a plist into the appropriate directories [5] [6]. The agent name may be disguised by using a name from a related operating system or benign software. Launch Agents are created with user level privileges and are executed with the privileges of the user when they log in [7] [8]. They can be set up to execute when a specific user logs in (in the specific user’s directory structure) or when any user logs in (which requires administrator privileges).

ID: T1159
Tactic: Persistence
Platform: macOS
Permissions Required: User, Administrator
Data Sources: File monitoring, Process monitoring
Version: 1.0
Created: 14 December 2017
Last Modified: 18 July 2019

Procedure Examples

Name Description

Calisto adds a .plist file to the /Library/LaunchAgents folder to maintain persistence.[11]


CoinTicker creates user launch agents named .espl.plist and[random string].plist to establish persistence.[13]


CrossRAT creates a Launch Agent on macOS.


Dok persists via a Launch Agent.[9]


FruitFly persists via a Launch Agent.[9]


Keydnap uses a Launch Agent to persist.[10]


The Komplex trojan creates a persistent launch agent called with $HOME/Library/LaunchAgents/ with launchctl load -w ~/Library/LaunchAgents/[5]


MacSpy persists via a Launch Agent.[9]


OSX_OCEANLOTUS.D can create a persistence file in the folder /Library/LaunchAgents.[12]


Proton persists via a Launch Agent.[9]


Mitigation Description
User Account Management

Restrict user's abilities to create Launch Agents with group policy.


Monitor Launch Agent creation through additional plist files and utilities such as Objective-See’s KnockKnock application. Launch Agents also require files on disk for persistence which can also be monitored via other file monitoring applications.