macOS High Sierra ‘root’ security issue allows admin access without a password – but there’s a fix

Roman Loyola
29 November, 2017
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Earlier this week, a macOS 10.13.1 security issue was revealed – a flaw that allows root access to a Mac without the need for a password. Developer Lemi Orhan Ergin tweeted that anyone can log into a Mac by entering the user name root without a password. The first time you try to login, it won’t work. But if you try it again, you will be granted access. Here’s Erign’s tweet:

Dear @AppleSupport, we noticed a HUGE security issue at MacOS High Sierra. Anyone can login as “root” with empty password after clicking on login button several times. Are you aware of it – Lemi Orhan Ergin (@lemiorhan) November 28, 2017

As Apple’s support document notesroot is a ‘superuser’ that grants access to areas of the system that are often used by system administrators.

At Macworld, we tried it on our own MacBook Pro running macOS 10.13.1, and the root login worked.

This issue seemed to work only after you are logged into a Mac under a different user name. I wasn’t able to use root and no password at the Mac’s user login screen that appears at startup.

An Apple spokesperson sent Macworld the following statement:

We are working on a software update to address this issue. In the meantime, setting a root password prevents unauthorised access to your Mac. To enable the Root User and set a password, please follow the instructions here: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204012. If a Root User is already enabled, to ensure a blank password is not set, please follow the instructions from the ‘Change the root password’ section.

How to fix the root security issue

This hole will probably be fixed in a future macOS High Sierra update. In the meantime, there are steps users can take to fix the hole. The fix is to change the password for root. Here’s how.

1. In the Finder, click on the Go menu and select Go to Folder.

finder go gotofolder.jog

2. Enter the following: /System/Library/CoreServices/Applications/ and then click Go.

go to core services

3. Find the Directory Utility app and launch it.

directory utility icon

4. Click the lock in the lower left to make changes. In the pop-up window, enter your user name and password, then click Modify Configuration.

directory utility make changes

5. Click on Edit in the menu bar and select Change Root Password.

6. In the pop-up window, enter a password and verify it. Click OK.

root change password

7. In the main window of Directory Utility, click the lock to lock it and prevent further changes.

8. Quit Directory Utility. You are done.

If you try to enter root without a password at a login prompt, the prompt will shake and reject your login. You’ll need to enter your new password to gain root access.

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