Entries Tagged "full-disk encryption"

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Breaking Hard-Disk Encryption

The newly announced ElcomSoft Forensic Disk Decryptor can decrypt BitLocker, PGP, and TrueCrypt. And it’s only $300. How does it work?

Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor acquires the necessary decryption keys by analyzing memory dumps and/or hibernation files obtained from the target PC. You’ll thus need to get a memory dump from a running PC (locked or unlocked) with encrypted volumes mounted, via a standard forensic product or via a FireWire attack. Alternatively, decryption keys can also be derived from hibernation files if a target PC is turned off.

This isn’t new. I wrote about AccessData doing the same thing in 2007:

Even so, none of this might actually matter. AccessData sells another program, Forensic Toolkit, that, among other things, scans a hard drive for every printable character string. It looks in documents, in the Registry, in e-mail, in swap files, in deleted space on the hard drive … everywhere. And it creates a dictionary from that, and feeds it into PRTK.

And PRTK breaks more than 50 percent of passwords from this dictionary alone.

It’s getting harder and harder to maintain good file security.

Posted on December 27, 2012 at 1:02 PMView Comments

Is iPhone Security Really this Good?

Simson Garfinkel writes that the iPhone has such good security that the police can’t use it for forensics anymore:

Technologies the company has adopted protect Apple customers’ content so well that in many situations it’s impossible for law enforcement to perform forensic examinations of devices seized from criminals. Most significant is the increasing use of encryption, which is beginning to cause problems for law enforcement agencies when they encounter systems with encrypted drives.

“I can tell you from the Department of Justice perspective, if that drive is encrypted, you’re done,” Ovie Carroll, director of the cyber-crime lab at the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section in the Department of Justice, said during his keynote address at the DFRWS computer forensics conference in Washington, D.C., last Monday. “When conducting criminal investigations, if you pull the power on a drive that is whole-disk encrypted you have lost any chance of recovering that data.”

Yes, I believe that full-disk encryption — whether Apple’s FileVault or Microsoft’s BitLocker (I don’t know what the iOS system is called) — is good; but its security is only as good as the user is at choosing a good password.

The iPhone always supported a PIN lock, but the PIN wasn’t a deterrent to a serious attacker until the iPhone 3GS. Because those early phones didn’t use their hardware to perform encryption, a skilled investigator could hack into the phone, dump its flash memory, and directly access the phone’s address book, e-mail messages, and other information. But now, with Apple’s more sophisticated approach to encryption, investigators who want to examine data on a phone have to try every possible PIN. Examiners perform these so-called brute-force attacks with special software, because the iPhone can be programmed to wipe itself if the wrong PIN is provided more than 10 times in a row. This software must be run on the iPhone itself, limiting the guessing speed to 80 milliseconds per PIN. Trying all four-digit PINs therefore requires no more than 800 seconds, a little more than 13 minutes. However, if the user chooses a six-digit PIN, the maximum time required would be 22 hours; a nine-digit PIN would require 2.5 years, and a 10-digit pin would take 25 years. That’s good enough for most corporate secrets—and probably good enough for most criminals as well.

Leaving aside the user practice questions — my guess is that very few users, even those with something to hide, use a ten-digit PIN — could this possibly be true? In the introduction to Applied Cryptography, almost 20 years ago, I wrote: “There are two kinds of cryptography in this world: cryptography that will stop your kid sister from reading your files, and cryptography that will stop major governments from reading your files.”

Since then, I’ve learned two things: 1) there are a lot of gradients to kid sister cryptography, and 2) major government cryptography is very hard to get right. It’s not the cryptography; it’s everything around the cryptography. I said as much in the preface to Secrets and Lies in 2000:

Cryptography is a branch of mathematics. And like all mathematics, it involves numbers, equations, and logic. Security, palpable security that you or I might find useful in our lives, involves people: things people know, relationships between people, people and how they relate to machines. Digital security involves computers: complex, unstable, buggy computers.

Mathematics is perfect; reality is subjective. Mathematics is defined; computers are ornery. Mathematics is logical; people are erratic, capricious, and barely comprehensible.

If, in fact, we’ve finally achieved something resembling this level of security for our computers and handheld computing devices, this is something to celebrate.

But I’m skeptical.

Another article.

Slashdot has a thread on the article.

EDITED TO ADD: More analysis. And Elcomsoft can crack iPhones.

Posted on August 21, 2012 at 1:42 PMView Comments

Full-Disk Encryption Works

According to researchers, full-disk encryption is hampering police forensics.

The authors of the report suggest there are some things law enforcement can do, but they all must happen prior to a drive being buttoned up by encryption. Specifically, they say that law enforcement should stop turning computers off to bring them to another location for study, doing so only causes the need for a password to be entered to read the encrypted data. Also, in some cases, doing so causes the data to be automatically destroyed. Fortunately, there are some tools forensics experts can use to gather data if it sits untouched, such as copying everything in memory to a separate disk. The team also suggests that law enforcement look first to see if the drive has been encrypted before scanning it with their own software, as doing so will likely result in a lot of wasted time.

Paper, behind a paywall.

Posted on December 1, 2011 at 1:44 PMView Comments

Protecting Against the Snatched Laptop Data Theft

Almost two years ago, I wrote about my strategy for encrypting my laptop. One of the things I said was:

There are still two scenarios you aren’t secure against, though. You’re not secure against someone snatching your laptop out of your hands as you’re typing away at the local coffee shop. And you’re not secure against the authorities telling you to decrypt your data for them.

Here’s a free program that defends against that first threat: it locks the computer unless a key is pressed every n seconds.

Honestly, this would be too annoying for me to use, but you’re welcome to try it.

Posted on June 29, 2009 at 6:51 AMView Comments

Hard Drive Encryption Specification

There’s a new hard drive encryption standard, which will make it easier for manufacturers to build encryption into drives.

Honestly, I don’t think this is really needed. I use PGP Disk, and I haven’t noticed any slowdown due to having encryption done in software. And I worry about yet another standard with its inevitable flaws and security vulnerabilities.

EDITED TO ADD (2/13): Perceptive comment about how the real benefit is regulatory compliance.

Posted on February 5, 2009 at 7:13 AMView Comments

Rubber-Hose Cryptanalysis

Cryptographers have long joked about rubber-hose cryptanalysis: basically, beating the keys out of someone. Seems that this might have actually happened in Turkey:

According to comments allegedly made by Howard Cox, a US Department of Justice official in a closed-door meeting last week, after being frustrated with the disk encryption employed by Yastremskiy, Turkish law enforcement may have resorted to physical violence to force the password out of the Ukrainian suspect.

Mr Cox’s revelation came in the context of a joke made during his speech. While the exact words were not recorded, multiple sources have verified that Cox quipped about leaving a stubborn suspect alone with Turkish police for a week as a way to get them to voluntarily reveal their password. The specifics of the interrogation techniques were not revealed, but all four people I spoke to stated that it was clear that physical coercion was the implied method.

Posted on October 27, 2008 at 12:45 PMView Comments

TrueCrypt's Deniable File System

Together with Tadayoshi Kohno, Steve Gribble, and three of their students at the University of Washington, I have a new paper that breaks the deniable encryption feature of TrueCrypt version 5.1a. Basically, modern operating systems leak information like mad, making deniability a very difficult requirement to satisfy.

ABSTRACT: We examine the security requirements for creating a Deniable File System (DFS), and the efficacy with which the TrueCrypt disk-encryption software meets those requirements. We find that the Windows Vista operating system itself, Microsoft Word, and Google Desktop all compromise the deniability of a TrueCrypt DFS. While staged in the context of TrueCrypt, our research highlights several fundamental challenges to the creation and use of any DFS: even when the file system may be deniable in the pure, mathematical sense, we find that the environment surrounding that file system can undermine its deniability, as well as its contents. Finally, we suggest approaches for overcoming these challenges on modern operating systems like Windows.

The students did most of the actual work. I helped with the basic ideas, and contributed the threat model. Deniability is a very hard feature to achieve.

There are several threat models against which a DFS could potentially be secure:

  • One-Time Access. The attacker has a single snapshot of the disk image. An example would be when the secret police seize Alice’s computer.
  • Intermittent Access. The attacker has several snapshots of the disk image, taken at different times. An example would be border guards who make a copy of Alice’s hard drive every time she enters or leaves the country.
  • Regular Access. The attacker has many snapshots of the disk image, taken in short intervals. An example would be if the secret police break into Alice’s apartment every day when she is away, and make a copy of the disk each time.

Since we wrote our paper, TrueCrypt released version 6.0 of its software, which claims to have addressed many of the issues we’ve uncovered. In the paper, we said:

We analyzed the most current version of TrueCrypt available at the writing of the paper, version 5.1a. We shared a draft of our paper with the TrueCrypt development team in May 2008. TrueCrypt version 6.0 was released in July 2008. We have not analyzed version 6.0, but observe that TrueCrypt v6.0 does take new steps to improve TrueCrypt’s deniability properties (e.g., via the creation of deniable operating systems, which we also recommend in Section 5). We suggest that the breadth of our results for TrueCrypt v5.1a highlight the challenges to creating deniable file systems. Given these potential challenges, we encourage the users not to blindly trust the deniability of such systems. Rather, we encourage further research evaluating the deniability of such systems, as well as research on new yet light-weight methods for improving deniability.

So we cannot break the deniability feature in TrueCrypt 6.0. But, honestly, I wouldn’t trust it.

There have been two news articles (and a Slashdot thread) about the paper.

One talks about a generalization to encrypted partitions. If you don’t encrypt the entire drive, there is the possibility — and it seems very probable — that information about the encrypted partition will leak onto the unencrypted rest of the drive. Whole disk encryption is the smartest option.

Our paper will be presented at the 3rd USENIX Workshop on Hot Topics in Security (HotSec ’08). I’ve written about deniability before.

Posted on July 18, 2008 at 6:56 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.