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Researchers bypass Android encryption by exposing phones to freezing temperatures

post #1 of 52
Thread Starter 
Security researchers in Germany have discovered that physically freezing an Android smartphone can grant access to encrypted data.

Frost
Researchers freezing a Galaxy Nexus, via Friedrich-Alexander University.


Google's encryption method, which has been a part of Android since the "Ice Cream Sandwich" release, was bypassed by exposing a smartphone to freezing temperatures for an hour, according to the BBC. After that time period, researchers were able to access previously encrypted contacts, browsing histories, and photos.

The test was conducted by researchers from Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany with Samsung Galaxy Nexus handsets, and the phones were cooled to 10 degrees below zero Celsius. Then the battery was quickly disconnected and reconnected, placing the handset into a vulnerable mode.

"This loophole let them start it up with some custom-built software rather than its onboard Android operating system," the report said. "The researchers dubbed their custom code Frost ? Forensic Recovery of Scrambled Telephones."

Frost
The "FROST" hack in action, via Friedrich-Alexander University.


The strange and involved process of bypassing Android encryption is not likely a concern to end users of Android devices, but could be an issue for corporations and governments that carry highly sensitive information on mobile devices. The researchers said that while they tested their methods with the Galaxy Nexus, other Android phones are also likely to be vulnerable.

Freezing the phone reportedly aids in the hacking of Android because the low temperatures cause data to fade from internal chips more slowly. Researchers used this phenomenon to obtain encryption keys and unscramble the phone's encrypted data.
post #2 of 52

And now the spin: "Apple phones just break when they're that cold! At least Android keeps working!"

“The only thing more insecure than Android is its userbase.” – Can’t Remember

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“The only thing more insecure than Android is its userbase.” – Can’t Remember

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post #3 of 52
You'd think something called Ice Cream Sandwich could withstand freezing temperatures.



PS: Beat you to it, GTR. 1biggrin.gif

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #4 of 52
Now, that's a really strange one. Not only the fact that the bug exists, but the fact that someone was able to find it.
"I'm way over my head when it comes to technical issues like this"
Gatorguy 5/31/13
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"I'm way over my head when it comes to technical issues like this"
Gatorguy 5/31/13
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post #5 of 52
This sounds like bad science fiction. Impressive work by those Germans.
post #6 of 52

deleted


Edited by MacRulez - 7/21/13 at 4:29pm
post #7 of 52

my wife often reaches these temperatures in bed. 

post #8 of 52
Nothing to see here. Just another example of the "freeze ram and transfer to a different OS/Host/etc to read the residual data" http://www.zdnet.com/blog/security/cryogenically-frozen-ram-bypasses-all-disk-encryption-methods/900

Any system of any kind with decrypted data in memory (as it must be when in use) is vulnerable to direct memory access attacks like this.
post #9 of 52

How cold was it?

 

It was so cold I froze my gona... er, ah, my encryption off!

 

Edit:  It's also affecting AAPL -- up about $5 in the last 5 minutes.

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post #10 of 52

Wait a minute...

 

 

Quote:
"This loophole let them start it up with some custom-built software rather than its onboard Android operating system," the report said. 

 

So they had to 1) physically access the device 2) freeze it 3) bypass Android to complain Android's encryption isn't good? 

 

Regardless of device or type, if you can physically alter it, odds are you can get to the data eventually.

I'm not a pessimist. I'm an optimist, with experience.
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I'm not a pessimist. I'm an optimist, with experience.
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post #11 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by thataveragejoe View Post

Wait a minute...

 

 

 

So they had to 1) physically access the device 2) freeze it 3) bypass Android to complain Android's encryption isn't good? 

yes, or otherwise known as 'Thursday' in Germany. 

post #12 of 52

The exploit is obviously reliant on characteristics of the hardware and the OS is actually near irrelevant.  I am impressed that Android's encryption is good enought to be such a serious obstacle to require such a HW level exploit.
 

post #13 of 52

Cold temps can do wonders for a harddrive.

 

A few years ago, the drive on a Macbook that I had suddenly died. It sounded like it had the click of death, because all it would do is make these nasty, loud clicking sounds every once in a while. The drive was totally done with. It wouldn't boot up at all and no data could be accessed from it.

 

After some quick online research, I decided to put the drive in a ziplock bag, and I threw it in the freezer overnight. The next day I removed it from the freezer and I immediately hooked it up to a Mac, and I was able to retrieve most of the data that was on the drive. It worked for almost an hour, then it died again, and remained dead for good.

post #14 of 52

I thought Android freezes irrespective of temperature. 

post #15 of 52
Ice cream sandwich couldn't stand the cold
post #16 of 52
The research is interesting, but it really should have been said that, incidentally, this was done on an android phone. If there exists a reason that this couldn't have been achieved on an iPhone or WinPhone, the article doesn't express that (or macbook, or vaio, for that matter.)
post #17 of 52

you can just do it with a much smaller freezer.

post #18 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeanSolecki View Post

The research is interesting, but it really should have been said that, incidentally, this was done on an android phone. If there exists a reason that this couldn't have been achieved on an iPhone or WinPhone, the article doesn't express that (or macbook, or vaio, for that matter.)

 

Er, because you can't remove an iPhone battery? Who knew that was actually a security feature! lol.gif

post #19 of 52

Cool! VERY cool!

post #20 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

The exploit is obviously reliant on characteristics of the hardware and the OS is actually near irrelevant.  I am impressed that Android's encryption is good enought to be such a serious obstacle to require such a HW level exploit.

 
While this is using characteristics of the hardware, it is the OS's handling of the hardware that is in error. But this is a pretty obscure hack.
post #21 of 52

For the same reason that thieves avoid stealing Android phones, I would argue that it's not very likely that there is any useful or valuable data to be stolen from the average Android phone.

post #22 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by "Apple 
[" url="/t/156354/researchers-bypass-android-encryption-by-exposing-phones-to-freezing-temperatures#post_2289642"]For the same reason that thieves avoid stealing Android phones, I would argue that it's not very likely that there is any useful or valuable data to be stolen from the average Android phone.

Or maybe it's the opposite of that: http://pedantical.com/newest/2013/3/7/f-secure-finds-android-to-be-the-most-insecure-mobile-os

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #23 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by "Apple 
[" url="/t/156354/researchers-bypass-android-encryption-by-exposing-phones-to-freezing-temperatures#post_2289642"]For the same reason that thieves avoid stealing Android phones, I would argue that it's not very likely that there is any useful or valuable data to be stolen from the average Android phone.
Yeah, nobody wants to see naked photos of your mother... lol.gif
post #24 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


Or maybe it's the opposite of that: http://pedantical.com/newest/2013/3/7/f-secure-finds-android-to-be-the-most-insecure-mobile-os

 

 

"This document was previously released under controlled 
distribution, intended only for selected recipients. 
document made public since: 7 March 2013
F-Secure proprietary materials. © F-Secure Corporation 2013. 
All rights reserved. 
F-Secure and F-Secure symbols are registered trademarks 
of F-Secure Corporation and F-Secure names and symbols/
logos are either trademark or registered trademark of 
F-Secure Corporation. "
 
Its an advert for their product.
post #25 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by Quadra 610 View Post

I thought Android freezes irrespective of temperature. 

 

snaaaap. 

post #26 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


Or maybe it's the opposite of that: http://pedantical.com/newest/2013/3/7/f-secure-finds-android-to-be-the-most-insecure-mobile-os

 

The link is saying that Android is the most insecure OS. That I can definitely believe, though Android might need to see a therapist or two, because there are clearly some issues at play here. I'm merely theorizing that there isn't much of value to be found on a typical Android phone. Your link doesn't disprove that. 

post #27 of 52
wait, shouldn't this be buried somewhere. Only Apple security risks should be headlined! /s
post #28 of 52
Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post
snaaaap. 

 

It should; it's brittle from the cold.

“The only thing more insecure than Android is its userbase.” – Can’t Remember

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“The only thing more insecure than Android is its userbase.” – Can’t Remember

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post #29 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

The exploit is obviously reliant on characteristics of the hardware and the OS is actually near irrelevant.  I am impressed that Android's encryption is good enought to be such a serious obstacle to require such a HW level exploit.
 

 

Or just bypassing it all by making an emergency call and hitting the power button.  Seems iOS and Android have more in common than anyone is willing to admit.

post #30 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by chazwatson View Post

 

Or just bypassing it all by making an emergency call and hitting the power button.  Seems iOS and Android have more in common than anyone is willing to admit.

Nice troll, but of course that exploit only exposed the iPhone's photos and contact list app.  Those aren't the reasons I use encryption on my devices.

post #31 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apple ][ View Post

Cold temps can do wonders for a harddrive.

 

A few years ago, the drive on a Macbook that I had suddenly died. It sounded like it had the click of death, because all it would do is make these nasty, loud clicking sounds every once in a while. The drive was totally done with. It wouldn't boot up at all and no data could be accessed from it.

 

After some quick online research, I decided to put the drive in a ziplock bag, and I threw it in the freezer overnight. The next day I removed it from the freezer and I immediately hooked it up to a Mac, and I was able to retrieve most of the data that was on the drive. It worked for almost an hour, then it died again, and remained dead for good.


Frosty tip, dude!  :)

An iPhone, a Leatherman and thou...  ...life is complete.

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An iPhone, a Leatherman and thou...  ...life is complete.

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post #32 of 52
This technique has been around for at least a year and should work against almost any Flash memory. That would include MacBook Air/Pro laptops with Flash drives as well as just about every mobile device out there.
post #33 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by chazwatson View Post

Or just bypassing it all by making an emergency call and hitting the power button.  Seems iOS and Android have more in common than anyone is willing to admit.

If an egg shell were unbreakable it would no longer serve its primary purpose. As is, it does a fairly good job of balancing its objectives.
post #34 of 52

Very cool.

Sent from my iPhone Simulator

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Sent from my iPhone Simulator

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post #35 of 52
Spies learned this trick during the Cold War.
Been using Apple since Apple ][ - Long on AAPL so biased
nMac Pro 6 Core, MacBookPro i7, MacBookPro i5, iPhones 5 and 5s, iPad Air, 2013 Mac mini, SE30, IIFx, Towers; G4 & G3.
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Been using Apple since Apple ][ - Long on AAPL so biased
nMac Pro 6 Core, MacBookPro i7, MacBookPro i5, iPhones 5 and 5s, iPad Air, 2013 Mac mini, SE30, IIFx, Towers; G4 & G3.
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post #36 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by stike vomit View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by "Apple 
[" url="/t/156354/researchers-bypass-android-encryption-by-exposing-phones-to-freezing-temperatures#post_2289642"]For the same reason that thieves avoid stealing Android phones, I would argue that it's not very likely that there is any useful or valuable data to be stolen from the average Android phone.
Yeah, nobody wants to see naked photos of your mother... lol.gif

 

Ha! First Impressions!

 

When I worked for IBM in Las Vegas, I was about to be assigned to a new customer.  My IBM Manager warned me that Mac was a bit of a wild man... 

 

The manager introduced me and said "Mac, this is the person I recommended..."

 

Mac turned to me and...

 

Mac: "Do you have any naked pictures of your wife?"

 

Me: "NO!"

 

Mac: "Do you want to buy some?"

 

The relationship could only improve from that point lol.gif

"Swift generally gets you to the right way much quicker." - auxio -

"The perfect [birth]day -- A little playtime, a good poop, and a long nap." - Tomato Greeting Cards -
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"The perfect [birth]day -- A little playtime, a good poop, and a long nap." - Tomato Greeting Cards -
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post #37 of 52
Okay, no one is going to say it so I will...

CHILLING!

Ten years ago, we had Steve Jobs, Bob Hope and Johnny Cash.  Today we have no Jobs, no Hope and no Cash.

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Ten years ago, we had Steve Jobs, Bob Hope and Johnny Cash.  Today we have no Jobs, no Hope and no Cash.

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post #38 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by akf2000 View Post

my wife often reaches these temperatures in bed. 

You're just holding her wrong!

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See, in the record business, you can show someone your song, and they don’t copy it. In the tech business, you show somebody your idea, and they steal it. (Jimmy Iovine)
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post #39 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by newbee View Post

You're just holding her wrong!

I've heard attenuation can be painful...
post #40 of 52

"This loophole let them start it up with some custom-built software rather than its onboard Android operating system,"

So was the software already installed on the phone, previous to their experiment, or did they install the software afterwards? This detail is actually pretty important.

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