It is interesting to see the wide coverage of a police investigation looking to harvest data from the Amazon Echo, the always-listening home automation device you may know as Alexa. A murder investigation has led them to issue Amazon a warrant to fork over any recordings made during the time of a crime, and Amazon has so far refused.
Not too long ago, this is the sort of news would have been discussed on Hackaday but the rest of my family would have never heard about it. Now we just need to get everyone to think one step beyond this and we’ll be getting somewhere.
What isn’t being discussed here is more of concern to me. How many of you have a piece of tape over your webcam right now? Why did you do that? It’s because we know there are compromised systems that allow attackers to turn on the camera remotely. Don’t we have to assume that this will eventually happen with the Echo as well? Police warrants likely to affect far less users than account breaches like the massive ones we’ve seen with password data.
All of the major voice activated technologies assert that their products are only listening for the trigger words. In this case, police aren’t just looking for a recording of someone saying “Alexa, help I’m being attacked by…” but for any question to Alexa that would put the suspect at the scene of the crime at a specific time. Put yourself in the mind of a black hat. If you could design malware to trigger on the word “Visa” you can probably catch a user giving their credit card number over the phone. This is, of course, a big step beyond the data already stored from normal use of the system.
It’s not surprising that Amazon would be served a warrant for this data. You would expect phone records (although not recordings of the calls) to be reviewed in any murder case. Already disclosed in this case is that a smart water meter from the home reported a rather large water usage during the time of the murder — a piece of evidence that may be used to indicate a crime scene clean-up effort.
What’s newsworthy here is that people who don’t normally think about device security are now wondering what their voice-controlled tech actually hears them say. And this is a step in the right direction.
There’s a very effective way of lifting dusty fingerprints from the field, or in a lab. It’s called an Electrostatic Dust Print Lifter — but as you can imagine, it is rather expensive from a forensic supply store. [Bradley VanZee] — from the Iowa Division for International Association for Identification — realized how simple a tool it was, and made his own for just over $50.
But first, how does it work? Electrostatic print lifting is a non-destructive process where you develop an electrostatic field on a sheet of “lifting film” which attracts the dust particles to stick to the film. It’s capable of recovering impressions from both porous and non-porous surfaces — even ones not visible to the naked eye.
Commercial versions of the tool cost upwards of $600-$800 + lift film. The first hack they realized is that instead of using proprietary lift film, it is just as effective to use car window tint instead! The second hack is even more clever — using a 80,000V tazor, some electrical leads, and some tinfoil you can create your own version of the tool. The aluminum foil acts as a ground, and the object you are inspecting is sandwiched between it and the lifting film. Holding the tazor with one electrode to the foil, you can trace the film using the other electrode at a distance, which induces an electrostatic charge in the film, attracting and capturing the dusty fingerprints. Allow the static to discharge, and store the film in a safe place to be digitized later!
Now obviously this is only really effective for flat objects, but it’s still a brilliant hack — especially to save your budget!
A coworker approached us today with a corrupted SD card. It was out of her digital camera, and when plugged in, it wasn’t recognized. This looked like the perfect opportunity to try out [Christophe Grenier]’s PhotoRec. PhotoRec is designed to recover lost files from many different types of storage media. We used it from the command line on OSX, but it works on many different platforms.
It’s a fairly simple program to use. We plugged in the card and launched PhotoRec. We were prompted to select which volume we wanted to recover. We selected “Intel” as the partition table. PhotoRec didn’t find any partitions, so we opted to search the “Whole disk”. We kept the default filetypes. It then asked for filesystem type where we chose “Other” because flash is formatted FAT by default. We then chose a directory for the recovered files and started the process. PhotoRec scans the entire disk looking for known file headers. It uses these to find the lost image data. The 1GB card took approximately 15 minutes to scan and recovered all photos. This is really a great piece of free software, but hopefully you’ll never have to use it.
Helix 2.0 has been released. Helix is a collection of various tools for electronic forensics. Just like on TV, you can use this to find all kinds of information on a computer. Some of the useful tools added were Winlockpwn a tool for breaking windows security, Volitility which processes data out of the raw memory, and several other tools that are beyond our comprehension.
You’ve undoubtedly noticed that the title says Helix V2.0, but the image and header of the Helix site say 3. We have no idea why. Look at the download info to see that it says V2.0.
[Via Midnight Research labs]
This is unfortunately another story we missed out on while we were trying to keep things from burning down. We told you that [Jonathan Zdziarski] was going to demonstrate iPhone lock code bypassing in a webcast. The real surprise came when he pointed out that the iPhone takes a screenshot every time you use the home button. It does this so it can do the scaling animation. The image files are presumably deleted immediately, but as we’ve seen before it’s nearly impossible to guarantee deletion on a solid state device. There’s currently no way to disable this behavior. So, even privacy conscious people have no way to prevent their iPhone from filling up storage with screenshots of all their text message, email, and browsing activities. Hopefully Apple will address this problem just like they did with the previous secure erase issue. O’Reilly promises to publish the full webcast soon.
AppleInsider is reporting that iPhone Software v2.0 will add a secure wipe feature. The screenshot above shows the text “This will take about an hour.” added to the normal erase feature. This time is used to overwrite data to the disk multiple times. The need for secure phone erasure came to light after a researcher was able to recover personal information from a refurbished iPhone using forensic tools. Since then, a few people have published techniques for obliterating personal data using either the GUI or the more thorough command line method. Remote wipe has also been added to the new firmware in case the phone is stolen. We’re happy to see security being made easily accessible to nontechnical users and expect that remote wipe will become standard on laptops in the future.
InformationWeek has great article on open source data recovery tools. What type of tools you use will depend on the severity of the situation. You can use live Linux distros designed for recovery like SystemRescueCD or Partedmagic (the latter being more user friendly). Security tools distrubutions like BackTrack can also be helpful; Helix in particular was designed for forensics work. dd is a standard *nix tool for imaging drives, but something like TestDisk can help you repair partition tables for whole disk recovery. Most deletion operations don’t overwrite the data which means you can use file carving to capture the lost files. PhotoRec is able to find files in a number of common formats. Finally, if you’ve got some serious forensic work ahead of you there’s The Sleuth Kit and many other command line tools.
As an addendum, OStatic put together a list of 5 freeware tools for protecting your system.