Mac users who noticed the gamecontrollerd process running in the background should read this to learn what it is and how to address the dubious situation.
What is gamecontrollerd?
There is a good deal of controversy around an entity called gamecontrollerd on Mac. Technically, it’s a legitimate process which, as its name would suggest, extends a computer’s video gaming functionality. One aspect of this enhancement is about a seamless syncing between the operating system and peculiar peripheral devices. The “d” in the end means that this item is a daemon, that is to say, a background service that provides interoperability and support required by applications and macOS components to work properly. The story took a sharp turn about a year ago, when some users started noticing gamecontrollerd run when they launch programs unrelated to gaming, such as Google Chrome, Slack, and Spotify. To top it off, those who use keylogger protection software such as ReiKey by Objective-See are being alerted to risk, with recurrent detection reports saying that the process is a passive listener of key tap activities.
So, what is gamecontrollerd anyway – a safe macOS daemon or a spyware strain? Most likely the former. It’s hard to assert why some defensive tools are flagging it as a keystroke logger. Perhaps a specific aspect of its execution logic resembles that of a commonplace sketchy process, or maybe the makers of those security solutions should fine-tune their rules regarding false positives. These are kind of murky waters so far. Nevertheless, the file resides inside the “/usr/libexec/” folder, which stores benign system-critical binaries and daemons. Also, the process is an inalienable element of Apple’s cross-platform Game Controller framework. App developers can add this functionality to their Xcode projects and benefit from the flexibility of available options for boosting users’ gameplay experience.
Some users saw gamecontrollerd running for the first time after upgrading to macOS 11 Big Sur last year. It comes as no surprise that those affected tend to associate the issue with the release of this system version. However, it could be a coincidence. The above-mentioned programming framework was introduced in mid-September 2020, only two months before the operating system rolled out to the public. The time-related overlapping of these two events might be the answer to the ostensible ties between them.
Here is one more thing to consider. The execution of the gamecontrollerd process co-occurs with instances of opening specific applications on a Mac. The common denominator across all these cases is that the red flag-raising programs are built with Electronjs, a popular open-source software engineering framework that leverages a combination of the Chromium codebase and the Node.js runtime environment to create multi-platform apps. Facebook Messenger, InVision, WordPress for desktop, Slack, Spotify, Twitch, Evernote, and many other widely used programs emerged from this pool. Since the Chrome browser is based on Chromium, it’s under the same umbrella in this context. For some reason, all these spawn the gamecontrollerd daemon when launched.
Whereas the trustworthiness of the process under scrutiny is out of the question, there could be malicious undercurrents of this problem. As previously stated, the gamecontrollerd entity is located inside a legit directory named “libexec”. Although this folder is supposed to be read-only, Mac malware authors came up with a way to modify its contents a while ago. This trickery allows malicious actors to deposit dodgy executables into the “libexec” repository and thereby prevent users from easily deleting these files. Adware is harnessing this mechanism the most at this point. That being said, it’s theoretically possible that a gamecontrollerd knock-off is what’s giving some Mac owners a hard time. There haven’t been any reports sustaining this theory, but the likelihood of such an attack chain isn’t necessarily zero. One way or another, there is no harm in checking a Mac for harmful code if gamecontrollerd is being incessantly triggered behind the scenes.
Gamecontrollerd “virus” manual removal for Mac
The steps listed below will walk you through the removal of this suspicious application. Be sure to follow the instructions in the specified order.
- Expand the Go menu in your Mac’s Finder bar and select Utilities as shown below.
- Locate the Activity Monitor icon on the Utilities screen and double-click on it.
- In the Activity Monitor app, look for gamecontrollerd or another process that appears suspicious. To narrow down your search, focus on unfamiliar resource-intensive entries on the list. Keep in mind that its name isn’t necessarily related to the way the threat is manifesting itself, so you’ll need to trust your own judgement. If you pinpoint the culprit, select it and click on the Stop icon in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.
- When a follow-up dialog pops up asking if you are sure you want to quit the troublemaking process, select the Force Quit option.
- Click on the Go menu icon in the Finder again and select Go to Folder. You can as well use the Command-Shift-G keyboard shortcut.
- Type /Library/LaunchAgents in the folder search dialog and click on the Go button.
- Examine the contents of the LaunchAgents folder for dubious-looking items. Be advised that the names of files spawned by malware may give no clear clues that they are malicious, so you should look for recently added entities that appear to deviate from the norm.
As an illustration, here are several examples of LaunchAgents related to mainstream Mac infections: com.pcv.hlpramc.plist, com.updater.mcy.plist, com.avickUpd.plist, and com.msp.agent.plist. If you spot files that don’t belong on the list, go ahead and drag them to the Trash.
- Use the Go to Folder lookup feature again to navigate to the folder named ~/Library/Application Support (note the tilde symbol prepended to the path).
- When the Application Support directory is opened, identify recently generated suspicious folders in it and send them to the Trash. A quick tip is to look for items whose names have nothing to do with Apple products or apps you knowingly installed. A few examples of known-malicious folder names are UtilityParze, ProgressSite, and IdeaShared.
- Enter ~/Library/LaunchAgents string (don’t forget to include the tilde character) in the Go to Folder search area.
- The system will display LaunchAgents residing in the current user’s Home directory. Look for dodgy items related to gamecontrollerd “virus” (see logic highlighted in subsections above) and drag the suspects to the Trash.
- Type /Library/LaunchDaemons in the Go to Folder search field.
- In the LaunchDaemons path, try to pinpoint the files the malware is using for persistence. Several examples of such items cropped by Mac infections are com.pplauncher.plist, com.startup.plist, and com.ExpertModuleSearchDaemon.plist. Delete the sketchy files immediately.
- Click on the Go menu icon in your Mac’s Finder and select Applications on the list.
- Find the entry for an app that clearly doesn’t belong there and move it to the Trash. If this action requires your admin password for confirmation, go ahead and enter it.
- Expand the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
- Proceed to Users & Groups and click on the Login Items tab. The system will display the list of items launched when the computer is starting up. Locate the potentially unwanted app there and click on the “-” (minus) button.
- Now select Profiles under System Preferences. Look for a malicious item in the left-hand sidebar. Several examples of configuration profiles created by Mac adware include TechSignalSearch, MainSearchPlatform, AdminPrefs, and Safari Settings. Select the offending entity and click on the minus sign at the bottom to eliminate it.
If your Mac has been infiltrated by adware, the infection will most likely continue to hold sway over your default web browser even after you remove the underlying application along with its components sprinkled around the system. Use the browser cleanup instructions below to address the remaining consequences of this attack.
Get rid of gamecontrollerd interference in web browser on Mac
To begin with, the web browser settings taken over by the gamecontrollerd “virus” should be restored to their default values. Although this will clear most of your customizations, web surfing history, and all temporary data stored by websites, the malicious interference should be terminated likewise. The overview of the steps for completing this procedure is as follows:
- Remove gamecontrollerd from Safari
- Open the browser and go to Safari menu. Select Preferences in the drop-down list
- Once the Preferences screen appears, click on the Advanced tab and enable the option saying “Show Develop menu in menu bar”.
- Now that the Develop entry has been added to the Safari menu, expand it and click on Empty Caches.
- Now select History in the Safari menu and click on Clear History in the drop-down list.
- Safari will display a dialog asking you to specify the period of time this action will apply to. Select all history to ensure a maximum effect. Click on the Clear History button to confirm and exit.
- Go back to the Safari Preferences and hit the Privacy tab at the top. Find the option that says Manage Website Data and click on it.
- The browser will display a follow-up screen listing the websites that have stored data about your Internet activities. This dialog additionally includes a brief description of what the removal does: you may be logged out of some services and encounter other changes of website behavior after the procedure. If you’re okay with that, go ahead and click on the Remove All button.
- Restart Safari
- Remove gamecontrollerd in Google Chrome
- Open Chrome, click the Customize and control Google Chrome (⁝) icon in the top right-hand part of the window, and select Settings in the drop-down
- When on the Settings pane, select Advanced
- Scroll down to the Reset settings section.
- Confirm the Chrome reset on a dialog that will pop up. When the procedure is completed, relaunch the browser and check it for malware activity.
- Remove gamecontrollerd from Mozilla Firefox
- Open Firefox and go to Help – Troubleshooting Information (or type about:support in the URL bar and press Enter).
- When on the Troubleshooting Information screen, click on the Refresh Firefox button.
- Confirm the intended changes and restart Firefox.
Get rid of gamecontrollerd using Combo Cleaner removal tool
The Mac maintenance and security app called Combo Cleaner is a one-stop tool to detect and remove gamecontrollerd virus. This technique has substantial benefits over manual cleanup, because the utility gets hourly virus definition updates and can accurately spot even the newest Mac infections.
Furthermore, the automatic solution will find the core files of the malware deep down the system structure, which might otherwise be a challenge to locate. Here’s a walkthrough to sort out the gamecontrollerd issue using Combo Cleaner:
- Download Combo Cleaner installer. When done, double-click the combocleaner.dmg file and follow the prompts to install the tool onto your Mac.
- Open the app from your Launchpad and let it run an update of the malware signature database to make sure it can identify the latest threats.
- Click the Start Combo Scan button to check your Mac for malicious activity as well as performance issues.
- Examine the scan results. If the report says “No Threats”, then you are on the right track with the manual cleaning and can safely proceed to tidy up the web browser that may continue to act up due to the after-effects of the malware attack (see instructions above).
- In case Combo Cleaner has detected malicious code, click the Remove Selected Items button and have the utility remove gamecontrollerd threat along with any other viruses, PUPs (potentially unwanted programs), or junk files that don’t belong on your Mac.
- Once you have made doubly sure that the malicious app is uninstalled, the browser-level troubleshooting might still be on your to-do list. If your preferred browser is affected, resort to the previous section of this tutorial to revert to hassle-free web surfing.