MacOS Application Allowlisting

Using Google Santa to improve MacOS

Posted by vgrsec on September 21, 2017

Editorial Update

This blog originally used the word whitelist to describe a list that allows an application to run. This word has been replaced with allowlist. This is both a more accurate word and more inclusive.


First, a little background, I've spent most of my time in Windows. As a Windows admin I fell in love with AppLocker. These days I find myself spending more time with MacOS and I've been looking for a way to secure MacOS in a similar way

That brings me to Google Santa. This product has a few things that drew me to it.

  • It's updated regularly, as of writing this article the most recent build is 7 days old
  • It has Certificate, Path, and Hash rule capabilities, similar to AppLocker.
  • Simple setup and configuration.

This blog will bring you through initial setup of Google Santa and the linked GitHub repo contains a selection of SHA256 certificates needed to allowlist specific applications


Setup for Santa is extremely straight forward.

By default Santa allowlists Apple certificates. This is an anti-lockout 'feature'. By putting Santa into enforce mode, everything is now blocked except Apple applications.

Important Files, Directories, & Commands

While using Santa these things will be extremely useful to understand.
  • Santa Configuration
    less /var/db/santa/config.plist
    To understand more about configurable options with Santa review Configuration
  • Review Logs
    less /var/db/santa/santa.log
    This will show you what's blocked, whats allowed, etc. The cert_sha256 hash shown in the log can be used to create allowlist rules
  • Find Certificate Information santactl fileinfo /Applications/%app%
  • Allowlist an Application santactl rule --whitelist --certificate --SHA256 %SHA256_of_app%
  • View the rules database.
    /bin/launchctl unload /Library/LaunchDaemons/
    /usr/bin/sqlite3 /var/db/santa/rules.db ".dump" >> /tmp/rules_playback.sql
    /bin/launchctl load /Library/LaunchDaemons/

Allowlisting an Application - WebEx Network Player

In this example WebEx Network Player has already been installed prior to enabling Santa, as such, we can try to launch it and get a failure

To enable WebEx as Root perform the following:

  • Monitor Logs using tail -f /var/db/santa/santa.log | grep --line-buffered WebEx | grep DENY
  • Launch WebEx Network Player
  • Review logs looking for cert_sha256=
  • Add to Santa SHA256 rules (as of 20170921)
    santactl rule --whitelist --certificate --sha256 ed3dc18e83b80201e1f16ae27a37e3cac7636744bae5ae8286509f64f8730292

Note some applications require multiple certificates. Google Chrome's updater uses a different cert than Google Chrome itself. Be on the lookout for this behavor.


This should give you enough information to start allowlisting the apps on your laptop that you trust and to deny the ones you don't

To help get you started I've uploaded to github some scripts for some common applications.