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How to Reset or Recover Windows SYSKEY Passwords

Friday, December 7th, 2018

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. (more…)

Extracting Apple Health Data from iCloud

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

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. (more…)

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

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

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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Google Enables Manual Google Drive Backups on Android Devices

Monday, November 12th, 2018

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. (more…)

iPhone Xs PWM Demystified: How to Reduce Eyestrain by Disabling iPhone Xs and Xs Max Display Flicker

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

The iPhone Xs employs a revised version of the OLED panel we’ve seen in last year’s iPhone X. The iPhone Xs Max uses a larger, higher-resolution version of the panel. Both panels feature higher peak brightness compared to the OLED panel Apple used in the iPhone X. While OLED displays are thinner and more power-efficient compared to their IPS counterparts, most OLED displays (including those installed in the iPhone Xs and Xs max) will flicker at lower brightness levels. The screen flickering is particularly visible in low ambient brightness conditions, and may cause eyestrain with sensitive users. The OLED flickering issue is still mostly unheard of by most consumers. In this article we will demystify OLED display flickering and provide a step by step instruction on how to conveniently disable (and re-enable) PWM flickering on iPhone Xs and Xs Max displays to reduce eyestrain. (more…)

Everything about iOS DFU and Recovery Modes

Monday, October 29th, 2018

If you are involved with iOS forensics, you have probably used at least one of these modes. Both DFU and Recovery modes are intended for recovering iPhone and iPad devices from issues if the device becomes unusable, does not boot or has a problem installing an update.

iOS Recovery Mode

In iOS, Recovery mode is a failsafe method allowing users to recover their devices if they become unresponsive. The Recovery mode, also known as “second-stage loader”, boots the device in iBoot (bootloader) mode. iBoot can be used to flash the device with a new OS. iBoot responds to a limited number of commands, and can return some limited information about the device. As iBoot does not load iOS, it also does not carry many iOS restrictions. In particular, iBoot/Recovery mode allows connecting the device to the computer even if USB Restricted Mode was engaged on the device. (more…)

Everything You Wanted to Know about Activation Lock and iCloud Lock

Thursday, October 4th, 2018

Working in a mobile forensic company developing tools for iCloud forensics, logical and physical extraction of iPhone devices, we don’t live another day without being asked if (or “how”) we can help remove iCloud lock from a given iPhone. Without throwing a definite “yes” or “no” (or “just buy this tool”), we’ve decided to gather everything we know about bypassing, resetting and disabling iCloud activation lock on recent Apple devices.

What Is Activation Lock (iCloud Lock)?

Activation Lock, or iCloud Lock, is a feature of Find My iPhone, Apple’s proprietary implementation of a much wider protection system generally referred as Factory Reset Protection (FRP). Factory Reset Protection, or “kill switch”, is regulated in the US via the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act of 2015. The Act requires device manufacturers to feature a so-called “kill switch” allowing legitimate users to remotely wipe and lock devices. The purpose of the kill switch was to discourage smartphone theft by dramatically reducing resale value of stolen devices.

According to Apple, “Activation Lock is a feature that’s designed to prevent anyone else from using your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple Watch if it’s ever lost or stolen. Activation Lock is enabled automatically when you turn on Find My iPhone. … Even if you erase your device remotely, Activation Lock can continue to deter anyone from reactivating your device without your permission. All you need to do is keep Find My iPhone turned on, and remember your Apple ID and password.” (more…)

iOS Forensics Training in Vienna: 17-19 Oct 2018

Monday, October 1st, 2018

There’s still time to register for the upcoming ElcomSoft training program in Vienna! Held in partnership with T3K-Forensics, this three-day training program will cover everything about iOS forensics. Law enforcement and forensic specialists are welcome to sign up! We’ll cover all the bases from seizing and transporting mobile devices to iOS extraction and analysis. We’ll talk about the acquisition workflow and have participants perform logical, physical and cloud extraction of iOS devices. Expect live demonstrations and fully guided hands-on experience obtaining evidence from iOS devices, pulling data from locked iPhones and accessing iCloud for even more evidence.

In this training:

  • Mobile acquisition workflow
  • Seizing, storing and transporting wireless capable mobile devices
  • The challenge of USB Restricted Mode in iOS 11 and iOS 12
  • Full-disk encryption, passcode and biometric authentication
  • Logical acquisition: extracting encrypted and unencrypted backups; shared files; photos and videos; crash logs; accessing stored passwords
  • Logical acquisition of locked devices: locating, extracting and using lockdown records
  • Physical acquisition: jailbreaking, imaging the file system, extracting passwords and decrypting the keychain
  • Cloud acquisition: synced data; backups; messages; iCloud Keychain (Safari passwords)

Where: Vienna, Austria
Language: English
Dates: 17-19 Oct, 2018

Sign Up!

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iOS 12 Enhances USB Restricted Mode

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

The release of iOS 11.4.1 back in July 2018 introduced USB Restricted Mode, a feature designed to defer passcode cracking tools such as those developed by Cellerbrite and Grayshift. As a reminder, iOS 11.4.1 automatically switches off data connectivity of the Lightning port after one hour since the device was last unlocked, or one hour since the device has been disconnected from a USB accessory or computer. In addition, users could manually disable the USB port by following the S.O.S. mode routine.

iOS 12 takes USB restrictions one step further. According to the new iOS Security guide published by Apple after the release of iOS 12, USB connections are disabled immediately after the device locks if more than three days have passed since the last USB connection, or if the device is in a state when it requires a passcode.

“In addition, on iOS 12 if it’s been more than three days since a USB connection has been established, the device will disallow new USB connections immediately after it locks. This is to increase protection for users that don’t often make use of such connections. USB connections are also disabled whenever the device is in a state where it requires a passcode to re-enable biometric authentication.”

Source: Apple iOS Security, September 2018 (more…)

Cloud Forensics: Why, What and How to Extract Evidence

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

Cloud analysis is arguably the future of mobile forensics. Whether or not the device is working or physically accessible, cloud extraction often allows accessing amounts of information far exceeding those available in the device itself.

Accessing cloud evidence requires proper authentication credentials, be it the login and password or credentials cached in the form of a binary authentication token. Without authentication credentials, one cannot access the data. However, contrary to popular belief, even if proper authentication credentials are available, access to evidence stored in the cloud is not a given. In this article we’ll tell you how to access information stored in Apple iCloud with and without using forensic tools. (more…)