Boot or Logon Autostart Execution: Plist Modification

Adversaries can modify property list files (plist files) to execute their code as part of establishing persistence. Plist files are used by macOS applications to store properties and configuration settings for applications and services. Applications use information plist files, Info.plist, to tell the operating system how to handle the application at runtime using structured metadata in the form of keys and values. Plist files are formatted in XML and based on Apple's Core Foundation DTD and can be saved in text or binary format.[1]

Adversaries can modify paths to executed binaries, add command line arguments, and insert key/pair values to plist files in auto-run locations which execute upon user logon or system startup. Through modifying plist files in these locations, adversaries can also execute a malicious dynamic library (dylib) by adding a dictionary containing the DYLD_INSERT_LIBRARIES key combined with a path to a malicious dylib under the EnvironmentVariables key in a plist file. Upon user logon, the plist is called for execution and the malicious dylib is executed within the process space. Persistence can also be achieved by modifying the LSEnvironment key in the application's Info.plist file.[2]

ID: T1547.011
Sub-technique of:  T1547
Platforms: macOS
Permissions Required: Administrator, User
Version: 1.1
Created: 24 January 2020
Last Modified: 15 October 2021
Provided by LAYER 8

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description

XCSSET uses the plutil command to modify the LSUIElement, DFBundleDisplayName, and CFBundleIdentifier keys in the /Contents/Info.plist file.[3]


ID Mitigation Description
M1013 Application Developer Guidance

Ensure applications are using Apple's developer guidance which enables hardened runtime.[4]

M1022 Restrict File and Directory Permissions

Prevent plist files from being modified by users by making them read-only.

M1017 User Training

Holding the shift key during login prevents apps from opening automatically.[5]


ID Data Source Data Component
DS0017 Command Command Execution
DS0022 File File Modification
DS0009 Process Process Creation
DS0019 Service Service Creation

Monitor for common command-line editors used to modify plist files located in auto-run locations, such as ~/LaunchAgents, ~/Library/Application Support/, and an application's Info.plist.

Monitor for plist file modification immediately followed by code execution from ~/Library/Scripts and ~/Library/Preferences. Also, monitor for significant changes to any path pointers in a modified plist.

Identify new services executed from plist modified in the previous user's session.