All posts by Vladimir Katalov

Passwords are probably the oldest authentication method. Despite their age, passwords remain the most popular authentication method in today’s digital age. Compared to other authentication mechanisms, they have many tangible benefits. They can be as complex or as easy to remember as needed; they can be easy to use and secure at the same time (if used properly).

The number of passwords an average person has to remember is growing exponentially. Back in 2017, an average home user had to cope with nearly 20 passwords (presumably they would be unique passwords). An average business employee had to cope with 191 passwords. Passwords are everywhere. Even your phone has more than one password. Speaking of Apple iPhone, the thing may require as many as four (and a half) passwords to get you going. To make things even more complicated, the four and a half passwords are seriously related to each other. Let’s list them:

  • Screen lock password (this is your iPhone passcode)
  • iCloud password (this is your Apple Account password)
  • iTunes backup password (protects backups made on your computer)
  • Screen Time password (secures your device and account, can protect changes to above passwords)
  • One-time codes (the “half-password” if your account uses Two-Factor Authentication)

In this article, we will provide an overview on how these passwords are used and how they are related to each other; what are the default settings and how they affect your privacy and security. We’ll tell you how to use one password to reset another. We will also cover the password policies and describe what happens if you attempt to brute force the forgotten password.

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While the dust surrounding the controversy of rushed iOS 13 release settles, we are continuing our research on what has changed in iOS forensics. In this article we’ll review the new policy on USB restrictions and lockdown record expiration in the latest iOS release. We’ll also analyze how these changes affect experts investigating iPhone devices updated to the latest OS release.

The real purpose of the USB restricted mode may not be immediately obvious, and the new enhancements may cause even more confusion. In our view, using USB accessories while the device is locked creates no additional risk to the user’s security and privacy. However, if we assume that this mode is aimed straight at certain forensic extraction and passcode-cracking solutions (such as GrayKey), the target of the USB restriction would be law enforcement agencies.

USB restricted mode made its appearance in iOS 11.4.1 and further enhanced in iOS 12. We posted five articles on the matter; do check them out if you don’t know what this feature is for. We also recommend the original Apple KB article “Using USB accessories with iOS 11.4.1 and later”.

Apple is still to update its iOS Security Guide. The May 2019 version (iOS 12.3) of the Guide defines USB restricted mode as follows.

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When you perform Apple iCloud acquisition, it almost does not matter what platform to use, Windows or macOS (I say almost, because some differences still apply, as macOS has better/native iCloud support). Logical acquisition can be done on any platform as well. But when doing full file system acquisition of jailbroken devices using Elcomsoft iOS Forensic Toolkit, we strongly recommend using macOS. If you are strongly tied to Windows, however, there are some things you should know.

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With over half a million users, Signal is an incredibly secure cross-platform instant messaging app. With emphasis on security, there is no wonder that Signal is frequently picked as a communication tool by those who have something to hide. Elcomsoft Phone Viewer can now decrypt Signal databases extracted from the iPhone via physical (well, file system) acquisition, and that was a tough nut to crack.

What exactly makes Signal so difficult to crack? Let us first look at how one can gain access to users’ communications occurring in other instant messengers.

Interception: the MITM attack

The first method is interception. One can attempt to intercept conversations in transit. This in turn is very difficult as everyone is touting point-to-point encryption. While technically the traffic can be intercepted, decrypting it will require a malicious app installed on the end-user device (such as the infamous NSO Group spyware). Without direct government intervention or proposed encryption backdoors one can hardly ever intercept messaging with a MITM attack. It is very important to understand that even if your iPhone is secure, the other party’s device running the iOS, Android or desktop app (which is much easier to break) might be compromised. If the other party is compromised, all your communications with that party will be compromised as well.

Signal implements special protection measures against MITM attacks, making certificate spoofing useless and complicating malware-based attacks. (more…)

The cloud becomes an ever more important (sometimes exclusive) source of the evidence whether you perform desktop or cloud forensics. Even if you are not in forensics, cloud access may help you access deleted or otherwise inaccessible data.

Similar to smartphones or password-protected desktops, cloud access is a privilege that is supposed to be only available to the rightful account owner. You would need a login and password and possibly the second factor. These aren’t always available to forensic experts. In fact, it won’t be easy to access everything stored in the cloud if you have all the right credentials.

Apple iCloud is one of the most advanced cloud solutions on the market, with lots of services available. These include comprehensive device backups, synchronization services across the entire Apple ecosystem including the Apple TV and Apple Watch devices, file storage, password management, home IoT devices, Health data and more. And it is pretty secure.

Let’s review all the possibilities of accessing Apple iCloud data with or without a password.

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iOS 13 is on the way. While the new mobile OS is still in beta, so far we have not discovered many revolutionary changes in the security department. At the same time, there are quite a few things forensic specialists will need to know about the new iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system. In this article, we’ll be discussing the changes and their meaning for the mobile forensics.

iCloud backups

We’ve seen several changes to iCloud backups that break third-party tools not designed with iOS 13 in mind. Rest assured we’ve updated our tools to support iOS 13 iCloud backups already. We don’t expect the backup format to change once iOS 13 is officially released, yet we keep an eye on them.

First, Apple has changed the protocol and encryption. There’s nothing major, but those changes were more than enough to effectively block all third-party tools without explicit support for iOS 13.

Second, cloud backups (at least in the current beta) now contain pretty much the same set of info as unencrypted local backups. Particularly missing from iCloud backups made with iOS 13 devices are call logs and Safari history. This information is now stored exclusively as “synchronized data”, which makes it even more important for the investigator to extract synced evidence in addition to backups. Interestingly, nothing was changed about synced data; you can still use the same tools and sign in with either Apple ID/password/2FA or authentication tokens. (more…)

We all know how much important data is stored in modern smartphones, making them an excellent source of evidence. However, data preservation and acquisition are not as easy as they sound. There is no silver bullet or “fire and forget” solutions to solve cases or extract evidence on your behalf. In this article, which is loosely based on our three-day training program, we will describe the proper steps in the proper order to retain and extract as much data from the iPhone as theoretically possible.

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While the iPhone is Apple’s bread and butter product, is not the only device produced by the company. We’ve got the Mac (in desktop and laptop variations), the complete range of tablets (the iPad line, which is arguably the best tablet range on the market), the music device (HomePod), the wearable (Apple Watch), and the Apple TV. In today’s article, we are going to cover data extraction from Apple TV and Apple Watch. They do contain tons of valuable data, and are often the only source of evidence.

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If you are familiar with breaking passwords, you already know that different tools and file formats require a very different amount of efforts to break. Breaking a password protecting a RAR archive can take ten times as long as breaking a password to a ZIP archive with the same content, while breaking a Word document saved in Office 2016 can take ten times as long as breaking an Office 2010 document. With solutions for over 300 file formats and encryption algorithms, we still find iTunes backups amazing, and their passwords to be very different from the rest of the crop in some interesting ways. In this article we tried to gather everything we know about iTunes backup passwords to help you break (or reset) their passwords in the most efficient way.

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There has been a lot of noise regarding GrayKey news recently. GrayKey is an excellent appliance for iOS data extraction, and yes, it can help access more evidence. As always, the devil is in the detail.

A couple of quotes first, coming from the company who now partners with GrayShift to bundle their mobile forensic software (one of the best on the market, I would say) with GrayKey. They do support GrayKey-extracted data as well, and here is what they say:

“From the first iPhone extraction from GrayKey we were blown away with the amount of data they recovered”

“we’re seeing data we haven’t seen in years”

Actually, this is not exactly the case. Speaking of full file system acquisition, it’s been us who were the first on the market some 3 years ago, see Physical Acquisition for 64-bit Devices, iOS 9 Support.

Since then, we’ve been actively developing and updating iOS Forensic Toolkit, adding support for newer versions of iOS. We published a number of articles in our blog describing the benefits of file system extraction and what you can get: location data, cached mail, app-specific data, CPU and network usage data and much more.

Yes, we use the different approach, that requires jailbreaking (more on that later).

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