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Life after Trim: Using Factory Access Mode for Imaging SSD Drives

January 16th, 2019 by Oleg Afonin

Many thanks to Roman Morozov, ACELab technical support specialist, for sharing his extensive knowledge and expertise and for all the time he spent ditching bugs in this article.

SSDs are weird. They are weird in the way they write data, and even weirder in the way they delete information. In the good old days of striped magnetic recording, one could delete a file and rest assured its content was still there until overwritten at some (hopefully distant) moment in the future; not so on an SSD.

SSDs are different. They are different in handling deleted data, wiping evidence irreversibly in the background like they were criminals’ best friends. Just power on the SSD, and it’ll start background garbage collection, erasing trimmed blocks even if you connected it through a write blocker. Image the SSD, and you won’t find anything in the “empty” areas – even if the actual data was still there at the time of the imaging. One more thing: your SSD has more storage capacity than it says on the box. 5 to 15% of the physical storage capacity is dedicated for a non-addressable pool; any data one deletes from the SSD that is subsequently trimmed by the OS can go straight into that pool, without any chance of accessing or even addressing the blocks.

Until very recently your only way of accessing deleted evidence on an SSD would be taking the chips off and performing a labour-intensive, time-consuming (let alone extremely expensive) chip-off analysis. We asked our partners from a forensic data recovery lab, and they told us they can do a four-chip SSD in a matter of two weeks. They also said they’d rather steer clear of the recent ten-chip SSDs, and they won’t do anything about encryption.

Did I say encryption? It could be easier than you think. A recent discovery points out that Windows built-in BitLocker protection tends to delegate the job of encrypting data to the SSD controller (as opposed to doing the encryption on the computer using the CPU). As found in the research, many consumer-grade SSDs take it easy, keeping the encryption key unprotected in the storage chips on the SSD.

In this article, we’ll talk about a recent development in SSD forensics allowing to prevent background trimming of evidence and providing access to the entire storage capacity of the disk including non-addressable areas. This method employs a so-called factory access mode. However, before we talk about factory access mode, let us first have a look at how SSDs store information and why it is so easy to destroy evidence and so insanely difficult to recover it. Read the rest of this entry »

A New Method for Decrypting WhatsApp Backups

December 20th, 2018 by Vladimir Katalov

WhatsApp remains one of the most popular instant messengers. With more than 1.5 billion users and about half billion daily active users, WhatsApp sends over 100 billion messages per day. WhatsApp is secure thanks to end-to-end encryption to make intercepted messages impossible to decrypt. While this is great news to consumers and privacy advocates, it is also bad news for the law enforcement. Once an expert accepts to access the suspect’s WhatsApp communication history, they will struggle with the encryption and demand for a vendor-provided backdoor (WhatsApp: The Bad Guys’ Secret Weapon).

Are there any other options to access WhatsApp conversations? We know of at least two. The first option is capturing the message database directly from the device of either party. The other option is going through the cloud. WhatsApp does not have its own native cloud service such as Telegram. All it has is a messaging relay service, which does not store messages for any longer than required to pass them along. In other words, any message that passes through WhatsApp servers is immediately deleted once it’s delivered (and it would be of no use to forensic experts anyway due to end-to-end encryption). It is important to note that WhatsApp accounts cannot be used on more than one device.

Let’s review WhatApp recovery/decryption options for both Android and iOS, and see what is new in Elcomsoft eXplorer for WhatsApp (EXWA).

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Six Ways to Decrypt iPhone Passwords from the Keychain

December 18th, 2018 by Vladimir Katalov

In Apple’s world, the keychain is one of the core and most secure components of macOS, iOS and its derivatives such as watchOS and tvOS. The keychain is intended to keep the user’s most valuable secrets securely protected. This includes protection for authentication tokens, encryption keys, credit card data and a lot more. End users are mostly familiar with one particular feature of the keychain: the ability to store all kinds of passwords. This includes passwords to Web sites (Safari and third-party Web browsers), mail accounts, social networks, instant messengers, bank accounts and just about everything else. Some records (such as Wi-Fi passwords) are “system-wide”, while other records can be only accessed by their respective apps. iOS 12 further develops password auto-fill, allowing users to utilize passwords they stored in Safari in many third-party apps.

If one can access information saved in the keychain, one can then gain the keys to everything managed by the device owner from their online accounts to banking data, online shopping, social life and much more.

Apple offers comprehensive documentation for developers on keychain services, and provides additional information in iOS Security Guide.

In this article we assembled information about all existing methods for accessing and decrypting the keychain secrets.

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How to Reset or Recover Windows SYSKEY Passwords

December 7th, 2018 by Oleg Afonin

Some 22 years ago, Microsoft made an attempt to make Windows more secure by adding an extra layer of protection. The SAM Lock Tool, commonly known as SYSKEY (the name of its executable file), was used to encrypt the content of the Windows Security Account Manager (SAM) database. The encryption was using a 128-bit RC4 encryption key.

The user had an option to specify a password that would protect authentication credentials of Windows accounts stored in the SAM database. If SYSKEY password was set, Windows would ask for this password during startup before displaying the login and password prompt.

While SYSKEY was not using the strongest encryption, attacking (brute-forcing or resetting) the user’s Windows login and password would not be possible without first decrypting the SAM database. As a result, a SYSKEY password would require the attacker to brute-force or reset SYSKEY protection prior to accessing the system’s Windows accounts. More importantly, an unknown SYSKEY password would prevent the user’s system from fully booting. This fact was widely exploited by ransomware and commonly abused by “tech support” scammers who locked victims out of their own computers via fake “tech support” calls.

Due to SAM database encryption, reinstalling or repairing Windows would not solve the issue unless the user had access to a recent backup or a System Restore Point. For this reason, Microsoft removed the ability to set SYSKEY passwords in Windows 10 (release 1709) and Windows Server 2016 (release 1709), steering users towards the much more secure BitLocker encryption instead. However, older systems are still susceptible to SYSKEY ransomware attacks.

Since SYSKEY protection is fairly old by hi-tech standards, it is no longer secure (it never been in the first place). Victims of SYSKEY ransomware or “tech support” scammers can now restore their systems by recovering or resetting SYSKEY password. Elcomsoft System Recovery has the ability to discover or reset SYSKEY passwords in order to restore the system’s normal boot operation. This is also the first time ever we’re publishing screen shots of the Elcomsoft System Recovery user interface. Read the rest of this entry »

Can Forensic Experts Keep Up with the Digital Age?

December 5th, 2018 by Vladimir Katalov

The boom in personal electronic devices recording literally every persons’ step introduced a new type of forensic evidence: the digital evidence. In this day and age, significantly more forensic evidence is available in digital form compared to physical evidence of yesteryear. Are law enforcement and intelligence agencies ready to handle the abundance of digital evidence? And more importantly, do frontline officers have the skills and technical expertise required to handle and preserve this wealth of information?

Digital forensic evidence is a major challenge today, and will become even more of a challenge tomorrow. Crypto currencies and the dark net created an effective shield for criminals committing online fraud and extorting ransom, trafficking drugs and human beings, supporting and financing international terrorism.

Digital evidence that lands on end user devices is also well shielded from investigation efforts. The unilateral push for hardware-backed secure encryption by major vendors of mobile operating systems (Google and Apple) covers criminals with almost unbreakable protection, building a wall around digital evidence that could be vital for investigations. Read the rest of this entry »

Apple Health Is the Next Big Thing: Health, Cloud and Security

November 29th, 2018 by Vladimir Katalov

Health data is among the most important bits of information about a person. Health information is just as sensitive as the person’s passwords – and might be even more sensitive. It is only natural that health information is treated accordingly. Medical facilities are strictly regulated and take every possible security measure to restrict access to your medical records.

Since several versions of iOS, your health information is also stored in Apple smartphones, Apple cloud and various other devices. In theory, this information is accessible to you only. It’s supposedly stored securely and uses strong encryption. But is that really so? What if Apple uploads this data to the cloud? Is it still secure? If not, can we extract it? Let’s try to find out.

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Extracting Apple Health Data from iCloud

November 29th, 2018 by Oleg Afonin

Heartrate, sleeping habits, workouts, steps and walking routines are just a few things that come to mind when we speak of Apple Health. Introduced in September 2014 with iOS 8, the Apple Health app is pre-installed on all iPhones. The app makes use of low-energy sensors, constantly collecting information about the user’s physical activities. With optional extra hardware (e.g. Apple Watch), Apple Health can collect significantly more information. In this article we’ll talk about the types of evidence collected by Apple Health, how they are stored and how to extract the data. Read the rest of this entry »

Messages in iCloud: How to Extract Full Content Including Media Files, Locations and Documents

November 15th, 2018 by Oleg Afonin

In today’s usage scenarios, messaging are not entirely about the text. Users exchange pictures and short videos, voice recordings and their current locations. These types of data are an important part of conversation histories; they can be just as valuable evidence as the text content of the chat.

Apple ecosystem offers a built-in messenger, allowing users to exchange iMessages between Apple devices. This built-in messenger is extremely popular among Apple users. Back in 2016, Apple’s Senior VP announced that more than 200,000 iMessages are sent every second.

All current versions of iOS are offering seamless iCloud synchronization for many categories of data. Starting with iOS 11.4, Apple devices can synchronize messages via iCloud. iMessages and text messages can be now stored in the user’s iCloud account and synchronized across all of the user’s devices sharing the same Apple ID. This synchronization works in a similar manner to call logs, iCloud Photo Library or iCloud contacts sync (albeit with somewhat longer delays). However, Apple will not provide neither the messages themselves nor their attachments when fulfilling LE requests or GDPR pullouts. Why is this happening, how to extract messages from iCloud accounts and what kind of evidence we can find in attachments? Read along to find out.

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iMessage Security, Encryption and Attachments

November 15th, 2018 by Vladimir Katalov

iMessage is undoubtedly one of the most popular instant messaging platforms for an obvious reason: it’s built in to iOS and ships with every iPhone by default. iMessage does not require complex setup, so the number of iMessage users is closely matching the number of iPhone users. Apple sells about 200 million iPhones every year, and the total number of iPhones sold is more than a billion. Unless you absolutely must chat with someone outside of Apple’s ecosystem (like those poor Android folks), you won’t need Skype, WhatsApp or Telegram. It’s also comforting to know that iMessage works everywhere around the world while most other messengers are oppressed in one or more countries.

But what about iMessage security? Is it safe to use if you’re concerned about your privacy? Is there a reason why countries such as China, Iran or Russia block other messengers but keep iMessage going? Is it safe from hackers? What about Law Enforcement? And what about Apple itself? It must have access to your messages to target the ads, right? Is it OK to send those private snapshots or share your location via iMessage?

There is no simple answer, but we’ll do our best to shed some light on that.

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Google Enables Manual Google Drive Backups on Android Devices

November 12th, 2018 by Oleg Afonin

An update to Google Play Services enables manual Google Drive backup option on many Android handsets. Since Android 6.0, Android has had an online backup solution, allowing Android users back up and restore their device settings and app data from their Google Drive account. Android backups were running on top of Google Play Services; in other words, they were always part of Google Android as opposed to being part of Android Open Source. Unlike iOS with predictable iCloud backups and the manual “Backup now” option, Google’s backup solution behaved inconsistently at best. In our (extensive) tests, we discovered that the first backup would be only made automatically on the second day, while data for most applications would be backed up days, if not weeks after the initial backup. The ability to manually initiate a backup was sorely missing. Read the rest of this entry »