This article on osxdaily.com discusses an issue in Mavericks and Yosemite where the user is prompted for passwords "at random times".

In the article, the following is claimed.

[The scenario where an attacker prompts you for your password] may be very unlikely, but it’s just good practice to not trust random password prompts, regardless of where they come from.

I think this claim makes a lot of sense, even if it perhaps glosses over details. To me it seems strange that the timing of a prompt should matter: If you are doing icloud stuff and you are prompted for a password you may think this ok, but if prompted at a "random time" you may become suspicious. I think this is a good mindset from a practical point of view, but I think this does probably not correspond to the security model that the developers had in mind.

My hypothesis is that no application should be able to generate a prompt with an "official icon" in the top left area, like the lock, or the icon for icloud.

lock enter image description here

I am not too worried about verifying the authenticity of a prompt from a browser (which is mentioned in the article), as I feel confident that I recognise such prompts. Any icon can be embedded in a website, but one can find out that the icon/prompt is then part of the website. My main concern is an attacker that already has access to your computer, but not administrator privileges.

My question is: Is there any practical way for a user to know that a password prompt is authentic? Should one rely on these icons?


This Q&A on superuser asks for methods to verify the validity of any window in a programmatic way, but I am looking for something more practical.

ICloud Password prompt (possible duplicate)

  • The other is not a duplicate just asking in one case - this is more general – mmmmmm Apr 10 '16 at 12:57
  • Possible duplicate of Password prompt diologue box – bot47 Apr 10 '16 at 13:35
  • @MaxRied Your answer in the Q&A you link to is interesting. Should I interpret this as a definite "no" to my question of whether we can trust these icons? – Vicky Apr 10 '16 at 13:46
  • @MaxRied I would also be interested to know if you know if there exists a "secure attention key" for mac (since you asked a question about this (which can be found by following two links from here)) – Vicky Apr 10 '16 at 13:55
  • You can't rely on an image as a definitve indication. There is no sak as far as I know. – bot47 Apr 10 '16 at 13:56

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