Another day, another accidental exploit 🥳. This time abusing Parallels Desktop’s trust in macOS installers, gaining local privilege escalation!

Vulnerability Discovery

While working with Parallels’ Mass Deployment package, I was testing against a 2018 Intel Mac mini and a macOS virtual machine. One odd thing I noticed during my tests was that a password prompt never appeared when it created my macOS VMs.

This was odd, as I was fairly certain Parallels was using Apple’s createinstallmedia internally which requires root privileges. Upon further inspection, I confirmed this through a script called located under Parallels

And look at that, no signature verification! Looks like an easy point to exploit 🤔.

But the question remains, how’s Parallels running createinstallmedia as root without administrator credentials?

Magic of Set UID Bit

Originally I had believed Parallels installed some kind of XPC service to pass commands as root, however after searching I could not find any launch services associated with Parallels…

After finding Reno Robert’s amazing report, Bash Privileged-Mode Vulnerabilities in Parallels Desktop and CDPATH handing in macOS, I learned of a Unix trick called “Set UID bit” that a file can have.

What this S-Bit does is allow the executable to change its UID (user ID) to that of the file’s owner. And if the file’s owner is root, well now you get to run as root!

# Find all files with S-Bit set
/usr/bin/find . -perm -u=s

  • Note that AppKit-based applications are explicitly prohibited from using this on stock macOS installs, instead another process will need to run them (ex. Parallels Services)

Wait, is VMware Fusion also vulnerable to a malicious createinstallmedia?

Fun fact: Surprisingly not!

This is because of an odd script they developed called Create macOS Installer.tool located under VMware which attempts to create a valid installer manually and bypasses createinstallmedia’s usage. However, this means it’s broken for modern macOS installers. But hey, no local privilege escalation 🎉

Intel-only Parallels Exploit

Something to keep in mind with this exploit is that it only affects x86_64-based hosts in macOS. This is due to the fact createinstallmedia-based installers are incompatible with Apple’s Virtualization.framework stack on Apple Silicon, instead requiring IPSW restore images. Thus the vulnerable code path is never executed on Apple Silicon Macs.

What about versions of Parallels that didn’t check for Apple Silicon support?

This specific edge case relates to the timeline Apple Silicon launched. If an application was released before Apple Silicon, it will just assume the M-series Mac is just like any other Intel Mac.

When looking at Parallels Desktop 15.1.5 (47309), we see createinstallmedia isn’t actually invoked inside of Instead, it uses hdiutil to create a disk image similar to VMware Fusion. Only with Parallels Desktop 16, Parallels adds support for createinstallmedia-based VMs, and at the same time checks whether the host can use it. Thus preventing the exploit from ever being triggered on Apple Silicon Macs.

The below error message is generated by ParallelsVirtualizationSDK.framework when attempting to use a macOS installer on an Apple Silicon Mac:

Proof of Concept

Overall fairly straightforward:

  1. Create a macOS Installer app, with a malicious payload under Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia.
  2. Have Parallels Desktop open said application, and prepare it for installation.

    i. prl_client_app takes the malicious macOS Installer app

    ii. prl_client_app runs Parallels Service

    iii. Parallels Service runs setuid raising privileges to root

    iv. Parallels Service runs

    v. runs createinstallmedia as root

I have this process automated through, which creates a generic AppleScript payload to demonstrate root privileges and has Parallels load it.

And when we run said script, we get local privilege escalation!

Reporting Process

Filed through Parallels’ Responsible Disclosure system, we advised Parallels to implement code signature verification before executing createinstallmedia.

  • Notice in the above site that a valid License or Proof of Purchase is required, that’s unfortunate…
    • Fun fact: My exploit works before even registering a product key!
Sender Topic Date
RIPEDA Initial Report - 90+30 Disclosure Policy. February 14th, 2024
Parallels Initial response, asking for files in an alternative method. February 25th, 2024
RIPEDA Provided files. February 25th, 2024
Parallels Confirmed received files. March 1st, 2024
Parallels Released Parallels Desktop 19.3.0, still vulnerable. March 7th, 2024
RIPEDA Follow up. April 17th, 2024
Parallels Reminded internal team. April 18th, 2024
Parallels Released Parallels Desktop 19.3.1 without notifying us. April 30th, 2024
RIPEDA Confirmed vulnerability resolved May 1st, 2024
MITRE Assigned CVE-2024-34331 May 7th, 2024
RIPEDA Public Disclosure May 30th, 2024

Verifying Parallels’ Work

By complete accident, we noticed Parallels Desktop 19.3.1 had been released one morning on April 30th, 2024. We knew 19.3.0 didn’t include our fix, thus curious if perhaps 19.3.1 does.

When examining, we notice additional logic inside of do_repack_createinstallmedia(). Specifically a code signature check against anchor apple for createinstallmedia binary:

# verify createinstallmedia is Apple-signed
/usr/bin/codesign -v -R="anchor apple" "$source_app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia"
if [ $? -ne 0 ]; then
  echo "'$source_app' is not signed."

And now when we run our again, it properly rejects our payload!

  • The vague error messaging matches Apple’s own a bit too well…


A simple but fun exploit, and interesting to learn about the Set UID bit on files. Will be keeping an eye on S-Bit for future exploits.

Though shame Parallels doesn’t offer a bug bounty, especially being one of the most prominent virtualization solutions on macOS now since Apple Silicon. This only incentivizes researchers to sell exploits to make a living, rather than responsibly disclose them. I did discuss this with Parallels, however unknown if any changes will be made.

Ignoring all that, I also highly recommend others read Reno Robert’s report on their Parallels Exploit, lot of fun stuff in there: