Building a Visualization Tool for mac_apt

Matthew Goldsborugh / Daniel Hellstern

Image of mac_apt results


An important part of any forensic investigation is to find indicators left behind by an attacker on a compromised computer. This process can be very difficult, especially when the attacker takes steps to hide their tracks. Software that finds these artifacts as possible already exists, but our project revolves around one of them: mac_apt

mac_apt is an open-source collection tool for macOS devices, created by Yogesh Khatri. The tool collects everything from known WiFi networks to old print jobs and paired Bluetooth devices. Unfortunately, mac_apt outputs a lot of raw data, which is often difficult to go through by hand. That’s why we’re working on building a tool to help investigators find important artifacts among those discovered by mac_apt.

Design goals

The primary goal of the mac_apt graphical user interface (GUI) is to augment what’s available with existing tools like EnCase. Investigators use these tools to analyze artifacts and find which could be compromising. The mac_apt GUI will work to provide a better experience when analyzing macOS artifacts.

We have made significant progress since we began this project. In 8 weeks, we chose a Python GUI framework that would fit our needs, designed the basic structure and elements of the GUI, and have implemented many of the desired features.

Our main obstacle thus far has been the limitations of the wxPython framework that we chose. Features such as infinite scrolling and dynamic widget resizing are not built into the framework. Implementing these features ourselves would require a significant amount of time. We have opted instead to focus our attention on getting other elements of the GUI up and running before committing our time to those features.

Our team has been using the Python sqlite3 database API to pull the relevant data from the mac_apt databases using SQLite queries. The program converts the data into a human readable format and populates it into a table. We are now working hard to make the table user friendly with features like sorting, filtering, and column manipulation.

We have also been working on the text and hexadecimal preview window to display the contents of individual cells. While displaying the contents of a cell was simple, dealing with the “Source” column of our data tables has proven more difficult. The source column holds the file path of the file from which the table data was collected. Our goal has been to display the contents of the source file in a human readable format. The difficulty arises from the many different file formats represented in the database. The previewer must handle text, plist, sqlite, history, gz, xml, and kext file type and convert them into human readable and hex formats. Currently we are having trouble getting the hex viewer to display the corresponding ASCII character for some hex values.


With most of the basic components of the mac_apt GUI working, the next step is to implement more advanced features to make the GUI more user-friendly. We would like to add a file system tree, advanced searches, copying cell data to clipboard, and the ability to open source files in another application. Eventually, we hope to build a powerful, user-friendly tool that investigators can rely on to whittle down collected data to exactly what they need.

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