Three and a half years ago (in April 2009) our company took part in InfoSecurity Europe in London. I should confess that London is one of my favourite cities; besides, I love events on security — so that I was really enjoying that trip (with my colleagues). But something happened.
BitLocker, PGP and TrueCrypt set industry standard in the area of whole-disk and partition encryption. All three tools provide strong, reliable protection, and offer a perfect implementation of strong crypto.
Normally, information stored in any of these containers is impossible to retrieve without knowing the original plain-text password protecting the encrypted volume. The very nature of these crypto containers suggests that their target audience is likely to select long, complex passwords that won’t be easy to guess or brute-force. And this is exactly the weakness we’ve targeted in our new product: Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor.
The Weakness of Crypto Containers
The main and only weakness of crypto containers is human factor. Weak passwords aside, encrypted volumes must be mounted for the user to have on-the-fly access to encrypted data. No one likes typing their long, complex passwords every time they need to read or write a file. As a result, keys used to encrypt and decrypt data that’s being written or read from protected volumes are kept readily accessible in the computer’s operating memory. Obviously, what’s kept readily accessible can be retrieved near instantly by a third-party tool. Such as Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor.
Retrieving Decryption Keys
In order to access the content of encrypted containers, we must retrieve the appropriate decryption keys. Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor can obtain these keys from memory dumps captured with one of the many forensic tools or acquired during a FireWire attack. If the computer is off, Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor can retrieve decryption keys from a hibernation file. It’s important that encrypted volumes are mounted at the time a memory dump is obtained or the PC goes to sleep; otherwise, the decryption keys are destroyed and the content of encrypted volumes cannot be decrypted without knowing the original plain-text password.
“The new product includes algorithms allowing us to analyze dumps of computers’ volatile memory, locating areas that contain the decryption keys. Sometimes the keys are discovered by analyzing byte sequences, and sometimes by examining crypto containers’ internal structures. When searching for PGP keys, the user can significantly speed up the process if the exact encryption algorithm is known.”
It is essential to note that Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor extracts all the keys from a memory dump at once, so if there is more than one crypto container in the system, there is no need to re-process the memory dump.
The FireWire attack method is based on a known security issue that impacts FireWire / i.LINK / IEEE 1394 links. One can take direct control of a PC or laptop operating memory (RAM) by connecting through a FireWire. After that, grabbing a full memory dump takes only a few minutes. What made it possible is a feature of the original FireWide/IEEE 1394 specification allowing unrestricted access to PC’s physical memory for external FireWire devices. Direct Memory Access (DMA) is used to provide that access. As this is DMA, the exploit is going to work regardless of whether the target PC is locked or even logged on. There’s no way to protect a PC against this threat except explicitly disabling FireWire drivers. The vulnerability exists for as long as the system is running. There are many free tools available to carry on this attack, so Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor does not include a module to perform one.
If the computer is turned off, there are still chances that the decryption keys can be retrieved from the computer’s hibernation file. Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor comes with a module analyzing hibernation files and retrieving decryption keys to protected volumes.
Complete Decryption and On-the-Fly Access
With decryption keys handy, Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor can go ahead and unlock the protected disks. There are two different modes available. In complete decryption mode, the product will decrypt everything stored in the container, including any hidden volumes. This mode is useful for collecting the most evidence, time permitting.
In real-time access mode, Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor mounts encrypted containers as drive letters, enabling quick random access to encrypted data. In this mode files are decrypted on-the-fly at the time they are read from the disk. Real-time access comes handy when investigators are short on time (which is almost always the case).
We are also adding True Crypt and Bitlocker To Go plugins to Elcomsoft Distributed Password Recovery, enabling the product to attack plain-text passwords protecting the encrypted containers with a range of advanced attacks including dictionary, mask and permutation attacks in addition to brute-force.
The unique feature of Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor is the ability to mount encrypted disks as a drive letter, using any and all forensic tools to quickly access the data. This may not seem secure, and may not be allowed by some policies, but sometimes the speed and convenience is everything. When you don’t have the time to spend hours decrypting the entire crypto container, simply mount the disk and run your analysis tools for quick results!
In brief, here is the "problem": for years (I think starting from Windows 3.0 released almost 20 years ago), the passwords are being masked as you type them (in most programs what have any kind of password protection, and an operating system itself), i.e. replaced with asterisks or black circles. What for? To prevent the password from being read by someone who stands behind you.
There is a few, so I’ll put ’em all into a single blog post 🙂
First, Phoenix Technologies announced a program (for Windows XP/Vista) to link mobile phones with computer. But no, this is not about data transfer between the phone and PC. Indeed, this is a security system: walk away from your computer, and it will lock automatically; when the user returns, the program will automatically unlock the system. Of course, using Bluetooth (what else? :)). More details on Phoenix Freeze web site.
Second, Researchers take over botnet, grab 56,000 passwords an hour. Actually, this is not a very fresh idea (to steal the passwords using the malware). More important: the researchers found that most users reused passwords for multiple sites. I can guess that there are even some users who have the same passwords for accessing web sites (from pet lovers forum to online banking) and critical business data. So instead of breaking your PGP Disk container (which is really secury, even with our GPU acceleration), someone can just get the password saved by your browser. You’re warned.
Note to PGP legal dept: I’m not going to put the ® sign every time when I mention PGP. I’m just tired; we already did that in our press release and on our web site, and I think it’s enough. No, really? Well, I’ll repeat one more time: all names like PGP are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners in the UK, USA, Russia and probably somewhere else – e.g. in Albania. There are too many countries to mention, sorry :). Why should I care about (R)? Keep reading, and you’ll see the reason.
Note to PGP executive and marketing depts: thanks again for helping our marketing people to spread a word about company and our software. We have received many calls from local and international media, a nice press coverage, and a lot of people coming to our booth at InfoSecurity. Well, and several good orders – mostly from forensic/investigation people.
Now an update to my previous post. It becomes more and more funny: PGP has wrote about our ‘conflict’ in their own blog. And the author is… Jon Callas, CTO of PGP. He called his blog entry Lies, Damned Lies, and Marketing – not bad, eh? But the contents is even better. Jon starts with the words about ElcomSoft: “The company who made this has a great product, and as I said then, it’s a very cool product.” Thanks Jon, but we already knew that our software is “great” and “cool” – otherwise we would not get enough sales ;). But Jon’s story continues with the following:
[ElcomSoft] booth said, “the only way to break into PGP®.” This is a lie, and a lie in two directions.
1.They’re not breaking into PGP, they’re doing password cracking. There’s a difference.
2.They’re not the only people who do it. As I’ve said before there are plenty of other password crackers, both commercial and open source.
In short, the sign was factually incorrect, and lies about PGP.
If we lie, please sue us. If we don’t, better be quiet, please. But PGP marketing people have selected the 3rd way: complained to Reed Exhibitions and asked to destroy [a part of] our booth. Well done.
About : from my personal point of view, “breaking into PGP” can mean “password cracking” as well. Do we provide the tool to get access to password-protected PGP disk? Obviously we do. Did we say that it works in 100% cases, or that we cracked PGP encryption/algorithms? No we did not. Oh well, our English is definitely not perfect, but I think it is still better than your Russian, Jon 😉
About : yes, there is a lot of password crackers around. But I’m aware of just a single one (except ours, of course) for PGP Disk – and it is commercial; supports old versions of PGP Disk only; moreover, it is distributed only as a part of very expensive commerial e-discovery package – and it is MUCH slower than ours (because it does not use GPU acceleration). Sorry, I will not mention the vendor name here, simply because it is our competitor – and it did not pay us for an advertisement :). Jon, I’d appreciate if you can name the other ones (commercial or open-source). If you cannot, YOU lie. But I like your wording “as I’ve said before”; I think I should used it myself, too (e.g. “as I’ve said before, PGP is not secure and can be cracked” – without reference, for sure :)).
I recall how I talked to PGP representative a year ago – on previous InfoSecurity UK. The first question he asked was: “Have you received an e-mail from our legal department?”. I replied “Should I?”; he said “Yes”, and explained the reason: there was no (R) sign (near “PGP”) in our press release (Elcomsoft Distributed Password Recovery Unlocks PGP Protection). Well, see the note at the beginning of this post 😉
Another note: in fact, we were strictly prohibited (by Reed, but that’s definitely not their own initiative, but for sure PGP’s one) from printing anything about PGP on our booth. It’s a pity that I did not have a voice recorder handy. So if we wrote something like The only way to break PGP passwords, or The most cost-effective way to crack PGP passwords etc, such panel will be removed as well. We’ll probably try this next year. But we reserved the other place for InfoSecurity 2010 – not so close to PGP; I think it is a good idea anyway, because every half an hour they’re doing very loud (but not very smart) presentations telling people that PGP is #1 in this and that (nothing really interesting/technical/innovative).
Oh, I forgot to mention that we received a document from Reed explaining why they’ve removed our wall paper, finally – at the end of the first day, i.e. about 8 hours after removal. The official Regulations (sorry, I’m too lazy to scan it – but I will, if you wish) say that it should be done in advance (and no action can be made without prior notice in writing), but who cares? Anyway, for those who interested – here is how it looks like:
But I should also mention that Reed keeps their word: our panel has been replaced this morning (at their own cost). Have a look (the second panel from the right; the color is slightly different from the original one, but still better than nothing):
Lessons learned? You guess yourself. I would not say anything bad about PGP and/or Reed – they really helped us a lot. And I would NOT recommend PGP to send smarter people to the exhibition next year – so we’ll be able to save a significant part of our marketing budget 😉
After all… All of the above (as well as my other posts) is my personal view, and not an official position of ElcomSoft. Yeah, I’m the CEO of ElcomSoft, and I’m the person who approved the design of our booth (btw, only two days before the show: we were really busy doing technical stuff), but anyway.
And finally, thanks to all who made the comments to my previous post. As you can see, our blog is NOT MODERATED – in contrary to PGP’s one (which is actually premoderated, try it yourself; we made some comments there, but they have not appeared – at least in about two hours after writing). Censored? 😉
There is a lot of speculation about what has happened between Elcomsoft and PGP here on Infosecurity Europe 2009 in London, so I would like to share my own point of view which may or may not coincide with Elcomsoft’s.
First, I’d like to make it clear that I do respect PGP Corporation; those guys are making great software.
Now, I’d like to comment on Jon Callas (CTO of PGP) blog entry. There are some important factual errors which I suspect Jon is not aware and which I would like to correct. He writes:
We complained to the trade show that someone else was being factually incorrect about our product, and the trade show staff spoke to the company in question, and then took the sign down.
Well, I’m not sure if "to spoke to the company in question" means to try to remove wall paper in the absense of Elcomsoft staff 30 minutes before exhibition opening, and this is what has exactly happened. We’ve been approaching our stand when organizers were removing the wall paper. Nobody has even tried to contact us beforehand (they have mobile phones of every exhibitor, I guess), nor they gave us a chance to talk to PGP representative to explain anything. So that was not a really nice behavior, and pictures are only showing how ridiculous it was.
Marketing is a not something I feel comfortable with, but I suspect that if organizers remove every statemement which is not 100% true then we’ll see mostly white walls on most exhibitions. I can only see PGP’s request to remove our questionable (yes, I personally do admit this) marketing statement as a sign of inability and incompetence of their booth staff to expalain basics of password security to their (potential) customers.
Next, Jon writes:
1. They’re not breaking into PGP, they’re doing password cracking. There’s a difference.
2. They’re not the only people who do it. As I’ve said before there are plenty of other password crackers, both commercial and open source.
Breaking (into) something means breaking the weakest link. With PGP this is definitely the human being, not the technology. We did not say anything about breaking PGP encryption, so I don’t think we’re said something wrong here. Breaking password is usually sufficient to gain access to desired data and this is what often called breaking the system. And this is a slogan, not a technical paper.
We’re the only to provide hardware acceleration for PGP password recovery using commonly available hardware. This makes our product unique, so I believe word only can be here. By the way, there are not "plenty" of products, maybe just one or two besides ours, and no open source PGP Disk and/or PGP Whole Disk Encryption password crackers that I am aware of.
Again, I do respect PGP Corporation. Today we do not have many security vendors who make source code available for review, and this is just one thing I respect PGP for. And I really hope we will resolve this situation to our best.
We never thought that our participation would bring such kind of trouble (or at least a disappointment).
Monday early morning we came to prepare our stand and apply our wallpapers (yes, we do it ourselves, sort of team building :)). Practically, everything went smoothly, except for the fact that the organizers did not fix our company name board, electricity was not there and finally – we have got less space than we ordered (and paid for) because wall panels were not constructed properly. But after all, [almost] everything was fixed. Unfortunately, we have not made any pictures, but here is how it should look like (by design):
Next morning (the first day of the exhibition) we came to our booth in advance (about half an hour before the exhibition opens). And what we have seen? Two persons (from Reed Exhibitions, the organizers of this event) removing one of the wall papers from our booth – the one that said that we’re doing PGP password recovery. Moreover, we were not able to get the clear answer why they’re doing that, except the fact that “PGP Corporation complained”. And the reference to some “regulations” we still have not seen. We asked for some official paper (act?) about our “violation”, and still waiting for it. When (if?) we’ll get it, we’ll scan it and publish here.
Fortunately, we had the camera handy, and so made several photos of this “process” (removing our wall paper). Organizers (Reed) did not like that, too, and tried to hide their faces from the camera. But they failed, so you can see them now (and the whole “process”):
So we had to put the following note here (fortunately, on one panel only):
Only two hours later, they (Reed Exhibitions Group Event Director) came to our booth and asked to remove this note. Oops, sorry: not asked, just removed. Without explanation. Well, the explanation was: we have the right to do anything here.
What are they (PGP) scared about? I don’t have an answer. Do we say that PGP protection/encryption is not secure? No we don’t. But we DO say that PGP passwords can be cracked – if they are not selected carefully. But if PGP people cannot explain that to their clients – this is not our fault.
EDPR is all for cutting unnecessary costs, saving time and energy. Just using video cads you have at hand can result in excellent performance. In the graph you can see a huge leap in speed since graphic cards came into action.