ElcomSoft blog

«…Everything you wanted to know about password recovery, data decryption,
mobile & cloud forensics…»

Posts Tagged ‘ESR’

A Bootable Flash Drive to Extract Encrypted Volume Keys, Break Full-Disk Encryption

Thursday, April 25th, 2019

Full-disk encryption presents an immediate challenge to forensic experts. When acquiring computers with encrypted system volumes, the investigation cannot go forward without breaking the encryption first. Traditionally, experts would remove the hard drive(s), make disk images and work from there. We are offering a faster and easier way to access information required to break full-disk system encryption by booting from a flash drive and obtaining encryption metadata required to brute-force the original plain-text passwords to encrypted volumes. For non-system volumes, experts can quickly pull the system’s hibernation file to extract on-the-fly encryption keys later on with Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor.

What’s It All About?

It’s about an alternative forensic workflow for accessing evidence stored on computers protected with full-disk encryption. Once the system partition is encrypted, there is nothing one can do about it but break the encryption. Elcomsoft System Recovery helps launch password recovery attacks sooner compared to the traditional acquisition workflow, and offers a chance of mounting the encrypted volumes in a matter of minutes by extracting the system’s hibernation file that may contain on-the-fly encryption keys protecting the encrypted volumes.

This new workflow is especially handy when analyzing ultrabooks, laptops and 2-in-1 Windows tablet devices such as the Microsoft Surface range featuring non-removable, soldered storage or non-standard media. With just a few clicks (literally), experts can extract all information required to launch the attack on encrypted volumes.

Elcomsoft System Recovery offers unprecedented safety and compatibility. The use of a licensed Windows PE environment ensures full hardware compatibility and boot support for systems protected with Secure Startup. The tool mounts the user’s disks and storage media in strict read-only mode to ensure forensically sound extraction. (more…)

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…)

Elcomsoft System Recovery UEFI Support

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

As you may already know, we’ve released an update to Elcomsoft System Recovery, a tool allowing to reset or recover Windows and Microsoft Account passwords by booting from an external USB drive. The new build allows creating bootable USB drives for devices exclusively relying on UEFI bootloaders. Why was this change needed? Read below for an answer!

UEFI Boot Support

If you need access to Windows protected files (and files containing password hashes are always protected), you will either require administrative privileges or must boot a separate copy of Windows from a separate boot media. Elcomsoft System Recovery has always come with the ability to create such bootable media.

As computers evolved, industry moved to 64-bit computations. During the last decade, CPU manufacturers migrated completely to 64-bit architecture. Some years later, it became obvious that legacy BIOS was no longer relevant in the new age. BIOS was superseded with UEFI.

To maintain compatibility with legacy operating systems, most systems of that time period came with support for legacy boot mode (BIOS emulation, “compatibility mode”) enabled out of the box. As operating systems evolved, manufacturers started gradually phasing out legacy support. Today we have reached the point where many new devices (2013 and newer) come without any sort of BIOS emulation at all.

Elcomsoft System Recovery comes with a customized bootable Windows PE environment. By booting from this media, customers can gain access to existing Windows installations even if they don’t know the correct password. For a long time, Elcomsoft System Recovery was relying on legacy compatibility mode to boot. This is no longer an option. The increased share of devices shipping without BIOS emulation or legacy boot support required us to adapt.

(more…)