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Mac OS X Security Issue: Screen Lock Security Bypass Mac OS X 10.3 Panther

Posted on October 4, 2003

Affected Product: Mac OS X 10.3 Build 7B85
Severity: Low
Impact: Security Bypass
Where: Local System
Author: CodeSamurai (


With access to the keyboard, an unauthorized user can access the currently active screen-locked user environment. However, there is only a relatively small opening in the period of time in which the keys events get through; completing complicated operations at the keyboard have shown to be highly tedious in actual practice thus far.


With the screen effect active, keys pressed before the authentication window appears will be sent to the general user environment.


Tested Examples:

  •  An open word processing document can be typed in.
  •  Shortcut operations via the keyboard are executed.
  •  New windows can be spawned.
  •  New folders can be created in the Finder.
  •  Switching between running applications is possible.
  •  One can navigate through the file system and launch applications.
  •  Terminal was launched and binary was executed from the command line.



Although the potential risk due to malicious intent via this vulnerability is obvious, tentatively it appears that in real-world practicality, the impact will most likely be statistically small. (But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.)

SecureMac Notes: For the first-time-user actually executing anything useful before the screen lock appears is hard. For the user who practices and knows where items are stored and can quickly move around with the keys could change information or even disable authentication and gain access to the desktop.

Outside of the advisory, another major concern is that the user types their password before the dialog box has appeared and it echos to whatever application is parent in plain text. Instant Messages is what users are reporting they have echo’d their passwords to accidentally.

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