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Researchers release 'cold boot' attack utilities

A way around disk encryption

Reducing security risks from open source software

The security researcher who demonstrated the 'cold boot' attack has released the source code for the hack. The attack, first demonstrated in February, uses a set of utilities to lift crypto keys from memory even after a reboot.

A boon for hackers and computer forensics experts alike, the approach created a means to circumvent disk encryption simply by powering off a target machine which has been left hibernating or screen-locked, and quickly re-booting it to an external hard drive loaded with customised software. The attack worked because DRAM chips used by modern computers retain data for seconds or even minutes after being powered down, contrary to popular opinion. Cooling the chips wasn't absolutely necessary but aided the process in some cases.

Once the data is recovered utilities are needed to make sense of the information and perform functions such as correcting errors caused by bit decay.

The approach was pioneered by researchers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Princeton University and Wind River. One of the researchers involved in the celebrated hack, Jacob Appelbaum, released source code for the utilities used for it at the Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) conference in New York last weekend. It's hoped the release of the utilities will spur the development of countermeasures as well as raising awareness about the risks posed by the original attack.

A research paper on the attack along with explanatory video and code for the utilities can all be found here. ®

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