by RSS Kai Lu  |  Sep 19, 2017  |  Filed in: Security Research

Security researchers have identified more and more Mac OS malware attacks over the past two years. In June 2017, Rommel Joven and Wayne Chin Yick Low from Fortinet’s Fortiguard Labs found and analyzed a new ransomware targeted at Mac OS.  Most malware for Mac OS was developed in the Objective-C programming language. A good introduction to reverse engineering Cocoa applications can be found here. In that blog post, the researcher released an IDAPython script named  that can only be executed in IDA Pro. As you know, IDA Pro is the gold standard for disassemblers. However, IDA Pro Licenses start at $1409 (you can refer to that here). So this can be extremely cost prohibitive for many people.  One good alternative is the Hopper Disassembler for Mac OS. A Hopper Disassembler v4 Personal License is only $99.00.

I rewrote the IDAPython script named and developed a python script for the Hopper Disassembler. It’s similar to the IDAPython script. I named this Hopper python script  In this blog I will share this tool.

Some background regarding Objective-C can be found from here.  As mentioned in that article, the function call is implemented by the message sending mechanism in Objective-C. Unfortunately, this message sending mechanism causes problems when trying to follow cross-references for selectors in Hopper Disassembler. Before rewriting the python script for Hopper, therefore, we need to walk through the codes in IDAPython script and understand all the details. It’s important that we figure out the data structures of Class in low level in Objective-C, as well as the relationship between these data structures.  I have included a figure showing the relationship between these related data structures, as shown below.

Figure 1. The relationship between these related data structures of class in Objective-C

To verify the functionality of, I wrote a simple Cocoa application. The demo application can be downloaded from here. We load the executable mach-o file of the demo application into Hopper Disassembler, as shown below.

Figure 2. Loading the demo application’s executable file into Hopper Disassembler

The following is the python script

#objective-c xrefs hopper script
#rewrite the IDAPython script
#author: Kai Lu(@k3vinlusec)

def getRefPtr(doc,classMethodsVA,objcSelRefs, objcMsgRefs, objcConst):
	ret = (None, None)
	namePtr = doc.readUInt64LE(classMethodsVA) #get name field in struct __objc_method, it's selector
	ctn = 0

	for x in xrefsto(doc,namePtr):
		print 'xreffrom: ' + hex(x) ,'xrefto: ' + hex(namePtr)
		if objcSelRefs and x >= objcSelRefs[0] and x < objcSelRefs[1]:
			ret =(False, x)
		elif objcMsgRefs and x >=objcMsgRefs[0] and x < objcMsgRefs[1]:
			ret = (True, x)
		elif objcConst and x >= objcConst[0] and x < objcConst[1]:
			ctn += 1

	if ctn > 1:
		ret =(None, None)

	return ret

def xrefsto(doc,addr):
	xrefslist = []
	for i in range(doc.getSegmentCount()):
		seg = doc.getSegment(i)
		eachxrefs = seg.getReferencesOfAddress(addr)
		for x in eachxrefs:
	return xrefslist

def run():
	objcData = None
	objcSelRefs = None
	objcMsgRefs = None
	objcConst = None
	objc2ClassSize = 0x28
	objc2ClassInfoOffs = 0x20
	objc2ClassMethSize = 0x18
	objc2ClassBaseMethOffs = 0x20
	objc2ClassMethImpOffs = 0x10

	doc = Document.getCurrentDocument()
	for i in range(doc.getSegmentCount()):
		seg = doc.getSegment(i)
		#print '[*]'+ seg.getName()
		for sect in seg.getSectionsList():
			sectName = sect.getName()
			if sectName == '__objc_data':
				objcData = (sect.getStartingAddress(),sect.getStartingAddress()+sect.getLength())
			elif sectName == '__objc_selrefs':
				objcSelRefs = (sect.getStartingAddress(),sect.getStartingAddress()+sect.getLength())
			elif sectName == '__objc_msgrefs':
				objcMsgRefs = (sect.getStartingAddress(),sect.getStartingAddress()+sect.getLength())
			elif sectName == '__objc_const':
				objcConst = (sect.getStartingAddress(),sect.getStartingAddress()+sect.getLength())
			#print '  +++' + sectName, (hex(sect.getStartingAddress()),hex(sect.getStartingAddress()+sect.getLength()))

	if((objcSelRefs != None or objcMsgRefs != None) and (objcData != None and objcConst != None)) == False:
		doc.log("could not find necessary Objective-C sections...\n")

	#walk through classes
	for va in range(objcData[0],objcData[1],objc2ClassSize):
		classRoVA = doc.readUInt64LE(va + objc2ClassInfoOffs)

		if classRoVA == BADADDR or classRoVA == 0:

		classMethodsVA = doc.readUInt64LE(classRoVA + objc2ClassBaseMethOffs)

		if classMethodsVA == BADADDR or classMethodsVA == 0:

		count = doc.readUInt32LE(classMethodsVA + 4)
		classMethodsVA += 4*2

		#walk through methods
		for va1 in range(classMethodsVA,classMethodsVA + objc2ClassMethSize * count, objc2ClassMethSize):
			print '[*]start---------------'
			isMsgRef, selRefVA = getRefPtr(doc, va1, objcSelRefs, objcMsgRefs, objcConst)
			print isMsgRef,selRefVA
			print '[*]end------------------'
			if selRefVA == None:
			funcVA = doc.readUInt64LE(va1 + objc2ClassMethImpOffs)

			if isMsgRef:
				selRefVA -= 8
			print 'selref VA: %08x - function VA: %08x\n' %(selRefVA, funcVA)
			for x in xrefsto(doc, selRefVA):
				doc.getSegmentAtAddress(x).addReference(x, funcVA)

if __name__ == '__main__':

The script first walks through all classes in Section __objc_data. The following is the Section __objc_data of the executable file in Hopper. We can see that this section stores the data of all classes, which includes all classes defined by the user and their meta-class. Hopper is able to identify the data structure of the class in Objective-C.

Figure 3.  The Section __objc_data in Hopper

The field __objc_class_TestXrefs1_data is the type of struct _class_ro_t. It’s located at Section __objc_const. The following is the data structure of __objc_class_TestXrefs1_data.

Figure 4. The data structure of __objc_class_TestXrefs1_data in Hopper

The field __objc_class_TestXrefs1_method is a type of struct _method_list_t. It’s also located at Section __objc_const. The following is the data structure of __objc_class_TestXrefs1_method in Hopper.

Figure 5. The data structure of __objc_class_TestXrefs1_method in Hopper


In the python script, the function getRefPtr first gets the selector field in struct __objc_method. It then gets all references to the selector. Next, it checks which section these references are from. If there is more than one reference from Section __objc_const, that means that more than one class define a method with the same name.  For this case, the script ignores it.

The following screenshot is the references to the selector 0x100001ef8 in Hopper.

Figure 6. The references to the selector 0x100001ef8 in Hopper

We can see that both class TestXref1 and class TestXref2 define the same method “setName”, so this script ignores handling it.

Next, we take look at how to get the reference to the selector “extra” in Section __objc_selrefs. In the demo application, only class TestXref1 defines the method “extra.”

Figure 7. The reference to the selector “extra” in Section __objc_selrefs

Next, it gets the references to 0x100002608 in Section __objc__selrefs, and adds a new reference between each of these references and the implementation method.

The following is a screenshot of obtaining the references to the method “extra” in the class TestXref1 before executing the python script.

Figure 8. The references to the method extra in the class TestXref1 before executing the python script

And after executing the python script, we can see that a new cross-reference is added into the implementation of method.

Figure 9. A new cross-reference is added into the implementation of method after executing script

Using this script allows you to easily transition from a selector’s implementation to its references, and vice-versa.

Have fun with reverse engineering Objective-C on Mac OS!

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by RSS Kai Lu  |  Sep 19, 2017  |  Filed in: Security Research