Posts Tagged ‘Android’

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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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…)

We have already covered the emergency SOS mode introduced in iOS 11. When entering this mode, the phone disables Touch ID and Face ID, requiring the passcode to unlock the phone. It appears that Google is taking cues from Apple, adding a new Lockdown Option to the newly released Android 9 Pie. Let us see what is similar and what is different between iOS SOS mode and Android 9.0 Pie Lockdown Option.

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Numerous vendors advertise many types of solutions for extracting evidence from Android devices. The companies claim to support tens of thousands of models, creating the impression that most (if not all) Android devices can be successfully acquired using one method or another.

On the other side of this coin is encryption. Each Google-certified Android device released with Android 6.0 or later must be fully encrypted by the time the user completes the initial setup. There is no user-accessible option to decrypt the device or to otherwise skip the encryption. While this Google’s policy initially caused concerns among the users and OEM’s, today the strategy paid out with the majority of Android handsets being already encrypted.

So how do the suppliers of forensic software overcome encryption, and can they actually extract anything from an encrypted Android smartphone locked with an unknown passcode? We did our own research. Bear with us to find out!

Many thanks to Oleg Davydov from Oxygen Forensics for his invaluable help and advise.

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After testing waters for more than a year, Google has finally pulled the plug and began blocking access to Google Play services on uncertified devices. Why Google took this step, who is affected, and what it means for the end users? Let’s try to find out.

Google Play Services Certification

In March 2017, Google rolled out a Google Play Services update that had a very minor addition. At the very bottom of its settings page, the Services would now display device certification status.

This is how it looks on an uncertified device:

What is this all about?

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With over 1.3 billion monthly users, WhatsApp is the most popular instant messaging tool worldwide, and Android is the most popular mobile operating system by far. This makes WhatsApp acquisition from Android devices essential for the law enforcement. Elcomsoft Explorer for WhatsApp 2.30 can now download and decrypt Android user’s encrypted WhatsApp communication histories stored in Google Drive. If you have access to the user’s trusted phone number or their physical SIM card (to receive a verification code from WhatsApp), you can now use Elcomsoft Explorer for WhatsApp to download, decrypt and display WhatsApp communication histories backed up into the user’s Google Account. Surprisingly, a cloud backup may, in certain cases, contain even more information than stored on the device itself. This particularly applies to attachments (photos and videos) sent and received by WhatsApp users and then deleted from the device.

WhatsApp Encryption

All recent versions of WhatsApp encrypt their backups with a cryptographic key unique per WhatsApp account. Without access to that cryptographic key, the only things Elcomsoft Explorer for WhatsApp could extract from the user’s Google Account are contacts and media files sent and received by the WhatsApp user. The main communication history is securely encrypted with AES-256. To make things even more complicated, the different builds of WhatsApp were using different encryption algorithms, making an all-in-one decryption tool a bit complicated to build. Elcomsoft Explorer for WhatsApp 2.30 solves all of these issues by automatically downloading and decrypting the backup from the user’s Google Account. The cryptographic key is generated automatically based on the authentication code received as a text message and delivered to the user’s trusted phone number.

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Software updates remain a sore point for the 86 per cent of consumers who are using Android-based smartphones. Both Apple and Microsoft have significantly different update policies, mostly allowing the companies to deliver updates directly to their customers. There is much more to these updates than just the Android (or Windows) version. With numerous versions, subversions and carrier modified versions of the phone’s software, experts may struggle when attempting physical extraction. Let us have a look at the differences between the three mobile operating systems, their update policies and the challenges they present to the forensic examiner.

Apple: Full Control over Software Updates

Apple has a tight grip over its mobile operating system, the iOS. In fact, it has an even tighter grip than most people think.

On the outside, the company makes iOS updates available to all supported models and all devices at the same time. With a very long support window or over 4 years, even devices released back in 2014 are eligible to receive the latest iOS build.

There is also a flip side to this story. Not only does the company solely controls the design, release and distribution of software updates, but it also has full control over what versions of the system a given device is allowed to install. Unlike Android devices that can install a signed OTA package (or, in some cases, flash a full image) of any version of software (with exceptions, e.g. rollback protection), iPhone and iPad devices can only install iOS updates (or full packages) that are cryptographically signed by Apple for that particular device. Before an iOS update (or full package, including downgrade packages) can be installed onto an iPhone or iPad device, the package must get an approval from an Apple server by receiving a cryptographic signature. That signature is placed in real time, and is only valid for a particular device. (more…)

Today’s mobile devices are getting increasingly more resistant to physical imaging, mostly due to the use of full-disk encryption. Full-disk encryption makes useless some low-level acquisition techniques of yesterday, which includes JTAG and chip-off.

iOS was using full-disk encryption since the days of iOS 4 released back in 2011, while Android only started enforcing encryption in devices manufactured with Android 6 and newer on board. Today, pretty much any smartphone you can buy new comes with full-disk encryption out of the box. Does this mean that Android smartphones are just resistant to physical imaging as their Apple counterparts, or is Android still a big security mess? Let’s have a look at some protection mechanisms implemented in modern versions of Android that are to prevent unauthorized access to user data, and how these mechanisms may become completely useless in the right circumstances. (more…)

In each major Android update, Google improves security on the one hand, and moves a few more things to the cloud on the other. The recently finalized and finally released Android 8.0 Oreo adds one important thing to all devices running the newest build of Google’s OS: the ability to back up SMS text messages into the user’s Google Account.

If you follow our blog, you may recall we’ve already talked about the issue a few months ago. Back in April, we were excited to introduce a new feature to Elcomsoft Cloud Explorer, enabling cloud acquisition of text messages from Google Account. Back then, the feature was limited strictly to Google Pixel and Pixel XL devices running Android 7 Nougat.

The release of Android 8.0 Oreo has finally brought the feature to all devices regardless of make and model, allowing any device to back up and restore SMS text message via the user’s Google Account.

We updated Elcomsoft Cloud Explorer accordingly, enabling support for cloud-based SMS extraction for devices running Android 8. There aren’t many of those yet aside of Google Pixel and Pixel XL devices, but many users of Nexus 5x and 6p have already received the update. More devices will follow. Let’s have a look at how this new feature works. Before we begin, let us first clear the confusion that arises between Android data sync and data backups. (more…)

How many Android handsets are encrypted, and how much protection does Android encryption actually provide? With Android Nougat accounting for roughly 7% of the market, the chance of not being adequately protected is still high for an average Android user.

Android Central published an article titled More Android phones are using encryption and lock screen security than ever before. The author, Andrew Martonik, says: “For devices running Android Nougat, roughly 80% of users are running them fully encrypted. At the same time, about 70% of Nougat devices are using a secure lock screen of some form.”

This information is available directly from Google who shared some security metrics at Google I/O 2017.

“That 80% encryption number isn’t amazingly surprising when you remember that Nougat has full-device encryption turned on by default”, continues Andrew Martonik, “but that number also includes devices that were upgraded from Marshmallow, which didn’t have default encryption. Devices running on Marshmallow have a device encryption rate of just 25%, though, so this is a massive improvement. And the best part about Google’s insistence on default encryption is that eventually older devices will be replaced by those running Nougat or later out of the box, meaning this encryption rate could get very close to 100%.”

So how many Android handsets out there are actually encrypted? Assuming that 0.25 (25%) of Android 6 handsets use encryption, and 0.8 (80%) of Android 7 phones are encrypted, it will be possible to calculate the number of encrypted handsets out of the total number of Android devices.

Let’s have a look at the current Android version distribution chart:

  • Android 5.1.1 and earlier versions: ~62% market share
  • Android 6: 31 (31% market share) * 0.25 = 0.078
  • Android 7: 0.07 (7% market share) * 0.80 = 0.056

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