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Off-the-shelf forensics tool slurps iPhone data via iCloud

Cops don't need your actual phone any more

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ElcomSoft has updated its mobile forensics software to include the ability to retrieve online backups from Apple iCloud storage.

The enhancement to Elcomsoft Phone Password Breaker adds the capability to retrieve user data associated with iPhones from Apple's iCloud online backup service. Backups to multiple devices registered with the same Apple ID can be retrieved using the technology, providing investigators has access to a user's original Apple ID and password.

The approach means that investigators need not have physical access to Jesus phones in order to recover unencrypted copies of data they hold.

Elcomsoft Phone Password Breaker launched with the ability to retrieve user content from password-protected backups created on Apple iPhones and BlackBerry smartphones. The password breaker only facilitated the recovery of passwords protecting offline backups not data held in the cloud.

Access to data stored in iCloud online backup service is of interest to forensic investigators, not least because the facility has been used by millions of fanbois for data backup and device synchronisation since its introduction last June. Apple's iCloud online backup service offers an alternative (or additional safety net) to backing up device data locally onto computers using iTunes.

iCloud backups offer a near real-time copy of information stored on iPhones including emails, call logs, text messages and website visits. iCloud backups are incremental. When set up to use the iCloud service, iPhones automatically connect to iCloud network and backup their content every time a docked device gets within reach of a Wi-Fi access point.

"While other methods require the presence of the actual iPhone device being analyzed or at least an access to device backups this is not the case with iCloud," ElcomSoft chief exec Vladimir Katalov explained. "With a valid Apple ID and a password, investigators can not only retrieve backups to seized devices, but access that information in real-time while the phone is still in the hands of a suspect."

The technology is marketed to computer forensics consultants, law enforcement and intelligence organisations. Investigators using the technology still need iCloud login credentials, which can't be obtained with Elcomsoft Phone Password Breaker alone. Logging into iCloud requires an Apple ID and password.

This password, if not already known, can be acquired from an offline backup produced with Apple iTunes, and "used by investigators to watch suspects' activities by monitoring changes to their online iCloud backups," Elcomsoft explains.

"If investigators don't have Apple ID and password, they can always try to get them and there are plenty of scenarios (both more and less sophisticated) to do so," Elcomsoft spokeswoman Olga Koksharova told El Reg. "Getting Apple ID credentials may be a challenge, however there are numerous ways and places to find them or their traces on all iCloud devices registered to the same Apple ID."

"Investigators can try to get physical access to a left alone Apple gadget (including laptops) and search it (e.g. its FileVault, which can take less than a minute if it's unlocked), or take a physical image of one of i-devices (e.g. there is EIFT to acquire iPhone contents within 20 minutes or so), or search any other private/corporate stationary PC/Mac because the credentials can also be cached in web browser when the suspect tried to enter iCloud from the web browser, or social engineer at least," she added.

However they eventually manage to get iCloud login credentials, investigators are subsequently relieved of the need to crack backup encryption passwords. The data is smoothly downloaded directly onto their computers from Apple remote storage facilities in plain, unencrypted form.

A blog post by Elcomsoft explaining how the technology works can be found here. ®

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