Since the development of SeaShell iOS post-exploitation framework started, I was thinking about evasion techniques that can be applicable to a non-jailbroken (or jailbroken but rootless) iOS systems. So, after few days of brainstorming I came with few ideas that can be used and that I have already implemented in SeaShell.


Typically, we use launchctl to achieve persistence on iOS/macOS. However, on non-jailbroken iOS devices (and even on jailbroken ones nowadays, as they are rootless), the root directory (/) is not writable, which means that we cannot write to /Library/LaunchAgents or /Library/LaunchDaemons. Consequently, we are unable to install a .plist file that would launch the payload.

Recognizing the need for a persistence installation method, I came up with an idea: What if we inject the payload into existing user applications? Initially, I considered inserting a dynamic library (.dylib) into the bundle executable of an application, but this would require re-signing the binary. Then, I had another idea: we can replace the bundle executable with a custom binary that will first execute the payload and then call the original executable.

Essentially, our custom executable will use the posix_spawn() function to execute the payload and then use execve() to invoke the original executable. Since execve() replaces the current process image with a new one, this is the optimal approach to launch the application. Below, you can find a diagram illustrating this process using the as an example.

To perform hooking we need:

  • 1. Patch Info.plist and add CFBundleBase64Hash containing base64 representation of <host>:<port> to connect back to.
  • 2. Move Calculator to Calculator.hooked. (CFBundleExecutable for other applications)
  • 3. Upload custom executable that will perform the loading and call it Calculator (CFBundleExecutable for other applications).
  • 4. Upload mussel payload that will call Pwny and perform connection.
  • 5. Perform chmod operations on both custom executable and mussel, otherwise posix_spawn() will die with error 13 which is Permission denied.

I am concerned that persistence can be called an evasion technique due to the fact that we are injecting our payload into another application infecting it.