‘Cold Boot Attacks on Disk Encryption’

Summary

The below linked paper shows that disk encryption, the standard approach to protecting sensitive data on laptops, can be defeated by relatively simple methods. The paper also demonstrates the methods by using them to defeat three popular disk encryption products: BitLocker, which comes with Windows Vista; FileVault, which comes with MacOS X; and dm-crypt, which is used with Linux.’

Credit:

‘The information has been provided by Jacob Appelbaum.
The original article can be found at: http://citp.princeton.edu.nyud.net/pub/coldboot.pdf


Details

Abstract
Contrary to popular assumption, DRAMs used in most modern computers retain their contents for seconds to minutes after power is lost, even at operating temperatures and even if removed from a motherboard. Although DRAMs become less reliable when they are not refreshed, they are not immediately erased, and their contents persist sufficiently for malicious (or forensic) acquisition of usable full-system memory images. We show that this phenomenon limits the ability of an operating system to protect cryptographic key material from an attacker with physical access. We use cold reboots to mount attacks on popular disk encryption systems BitLocker, FileVault, dm-crypt, and TrueCrypt using no special devices or materials. We experimentally characterize the extent and predictability of memory remanence and report that remanence times can be increased dramatically with simple techniques. We offer new algorithms for finding cryptographic keys in memory images and for correcting errors caused by bit decay. Though we discuss several strategies for partially mitigating these risks, we know of no simple remedy that would eliminate them.’

Categories: Reviews