Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Hashes? We don't need no stinking hashes!"


This is admittedly a long post. I hope you’ll find it worthy of your time. It demonstrates a methodology for obtaining images from Android devices that are locked USB debugging disabled. A popular device, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is used for the demonstration. This is not a step-by-step guide for all Android devices, but can be used as a framework to be adapted to your situation.

Samsung has recently upped the ante when it comes to Android pin/password locks in Jelly Bean. Past Android releases concatenated the the pin/password with the password salt and calculated both a SHA1 and MD5 hash of string. The hashes were then concatenated and stored in the 72-byte /data/system/password.key file. I talked about cracking the password.key here and here. But now, Samsung has changed the game.

Changing Times

I first encountered the change in March. I was contacted to assist a law enforcement agency with cracking a Samsung S2 pin. I planned to use hashcat to crack the pin, and the agency had those files at the ready. But, to my surprise, the password.key file was only 40-bytes in length. I won’t bore you with the steps I took to try to crack it, but suffice it to say that I didn’t crack it.

I later learned that Samsung had changed the pin/password hashing schema in their Android JellyBean releases. The new schema calls for the pin/password to be concatenated as before, but the SHA1 hash is repeated 1024 times thusly:

  • sha1(lastHash + iteration + pin/password + saltHex)

Lets assume a pin of 1234. Bearing in mind that in computerese, counting starts at zero and there is no lastHash in the first iteration, the process would look something like this:

Table 1. New Samsung hashing schema


Concatentated Elements



0 + 1234 + a1b2c3d4e5f6abbc



SHA1 + 1 + 1234 + a1b2c3d4e5f6abbc



SHA1 + 2 + 1234 + a1b2c3d4e5f6abbc



SHA1 + 1023 + 1234 + a1b2c3d4e5f6abbc


Knowing the schema makes cracking the resulting hash possible, though much slower than the stock android schema. But, this post isn’t about cracking the hash—rumor has it that Samsung is planning to change its hashing method again now that the secret is out--it’s about ignoring it entirely!

Traveling back in Time

Back to March… I mentioned that I didn’t crack the pin that was sent to me, ut, it got me thinking: is there another way to cope with locked Android devices. I knew from experience and study that the Android pattern lock was stored as a sha1 hash in the data/system/gesture.key binary file and the pin/password was stored in the data/system/gesture.key text file. So, I went to work on android Emulators for Android 2.3, 4.0, and 4.1.

And what I discovered was this: Simply renaming (preferred to deleting so the data can still be examined) the gesture.key or password.key file (e.g., "gesture.key.bak") disabled the locks! A reboot removes the hash values from memory and they are not reloaded by the operating system because they no longer exist. In the emulator, I was still presented with the lock screens, but by entering any pattern, or by touching OK/Done on the pin/password screen, I had access to the device. In real world devices, the lock screens were bypassed altogether.

The law enforcement agency I was assisting had root access to the device in question, or they would not have been able to send me the password.key and settings.db files. I contacted them and advised them to rename the password.key and as expected, they bypassed the pin lock.

Got Root?

There’s the rub, though: getting root access. In Android 2.3, this could be done, for the most part, with privilege escalation exploits like RageAgainstTheCage, GingerBreak, and ZergRush, to name a few of the most popular. The exploits, generally speaking, crashed services on the devices and prevented them from descalating privileges on restart. For the exploits to work, USB debugging needed to be enabled so the software could be pushed through the [Android Debug Bridge] (adb) from the desktop to the device. While I receive some devices with USB debugging enabled, the vast majority aren’t in that condition. And, the days of Android 2.3 are waning; I now see more Android 4.0+ devices which have been strengthened against such attacks.

What then can be done about a locked Android device where USB debugging is disabled, or in an Android version that is not vulnerable to a privilege exploit attack? How do we communicate with a device that just plain refuses to talk to us?

Recovery isn’t Just for Addicts

The Android operating system relies on several partitions to segregate and protect data. There are likely exceptions to the rule, but you can expect to find a boot partition, a system partition (the operating system that is the user experience), a data partition (user applications and data), a cache partition, and a recovery partition. There are, in fact, many more partitions in most devices. But we are going to focus on the recovery partition in this discussion.

Recovery is an operating system of its own. It’s small and limited, and most manufacturers limit its functionality. In stock recoveries, the functions are limited to the installation system updates, known as ROMs, and the wiping of the data and cache partitions (e.g. to remove user data before selling or returning the device).

Lesser known is that many stock recoveries have USB debugging enabled, i.e, a desktop system can communicate with the device through the adb. The privileges through the stock recovery are limited, but some information can be gleaned from the system. Let’s look at a Samsung Galaxy S3 that is pin-locked without USB debugging enabled…

Booted into the system ROM (the standard operating system), we expect to be unable to connect to the device through adb.

$ adb devices
List of devices attached


Sure enough, the device is not detected because the adb daemon on the device is not running. After shutting down the device, we boot into recovery by pressing and holding home + up volume + power.


Release the power button after the device vibrates but continue to hold the other hardware buttons until the Android graphic appears.

After the Android graphic appears, the stock recovery menu is displayed. The menu has the limited functionality described above, but we’re not here to look at the menu, but to determine if the adb daemon is running.

$ adb devices
List of devices attached
e7bc4973        recovery


Nice! We now have communication with the device. If we dropped to a shell with the adb shell command, or checked our privileges with adb shell id, we’d see that we have limited privileges as the shell user. But one thing we are able to do, which can be quite handy while looking for ways to defeat the security, is to determine what version of Android is installed.

$ adb shell cat default.prop

the default.prop text file is created on boot and shows many of the device settings. The first thing we see is what we already know: the device is locked (, and the USB debugging is disabled in the system ROM (ro.debuggable=0). But further along in the file we see some interesting tidbits (exerpted):

ADB Feb 14 15:05:00 KST 2013

We now know important details of the device: make, model, and Android version. Researching the device, we find there are custom recovery operating systems by both ClockWorkMod (CWM) and Team Win Recovery Project (TWRP). Both recoveries are rooted, meaning that they boot with administrative privileges in place. And in our case, that’s the only feature in which we are interested.

Samsung devices have a download mode, also known as "Odin" mode, for uploading data to partitions. The proprietary but leaked sofware tool "Odin" is used to accomplish this task. There is an open source tool, Heimdall, that is the functional equivalent of Odin. Odin is Windows-only software, but Heimdall is cross platform. Our goal is to use Odin or Heimdall to install one of the custom recoveries. We don’t want to fully root the device as an end user might, as that makes changes to the system and data partitions.

Powerful Norse Gods

Odin and Heimdall are named for Norse Gods. The software has the power to push software to a Samsung Android device while the device is in Download mode. They become hamstrung when the bootloader is locked, however. Luckily, an unlocked bootloader can be installed first to allow installation of the custom recovery. Though I prefer to use open tools whenever possible and Heimdall detected the device, it did not work with the bootchain archive from the exploit, so it was necessary to use Odin.

The process is straight forward and covered in the tutorial. I recommend installing TWRP because it has netcat and dd installed in the patch. The CWM version in the tutorial does not include netcat which is necessary for imaging.


The main point to remember when using Android forums for tutorials or information is that our goal as a forensic examiners is not the same as those on the forums:

  • Users want to achieve permanent root privileges and install custom operating systems

  • we want to obtain unaltered or minimally altered data.

Read the information with that in mind and make sure you understand what changes are taking place before you proceed.

Heeding the warning above, we can condense the steps in the tutorial to just four:

# Download and install the Offical Samsung Drivers # Download ODIN v3.07 # Download and flash the VRALEC Bootchain # Download and install TWRP (now at version

It is important in the TWRP installation that you boot immediately into recovery (home + volume up + power) or the boot process will detect the custom recovery and replace it with stock. This is the reason the tutorial mentions unchecking "Auto-reboot" in the Odin options. It you fail to boot into recovery and instead boot the stock operating system, you’ll have to repeat the third fourth step above.

Once you’ve successfully booted into the custom recovery, you are ready to image the device memory.


When I first broke into Android forensics, I was using Micro-SD cards to capture device images. Luckily, I have discovered another means for imaging, and a good thing, too: many devices don’t have SD Card slots (Kindle Fire, for example). The process involves using adb to do port forwarding and then using netcat and dd to pipe the raw NAND flash data to the connected desktop computer.

ADB port forwarding to pipe data to the desktop
$ adb forward tcp:5555 tcp:5555
$ adb shell
~ # nc -l -p 5555 -e dd if=/dev/block/mmcblk0

Above, we use the adb forward <local> <remote> command to forward Android tcp port 5555 to the desktop tcp port 5555. Then we enter the Android shell with the adb shell command. Immediately, you should notice the shell prompt which indicates we are the root user.

The netcat command, nc, is used to open connections between devices. Here, we set netcat to listen (-l) for and incoming connection on port (-p) 5555. When the connection is made, we direct it to execute (-e) a dd command that uses the device’s whole memory block as its input. At this point, nothing further happens until the connection is made. To make the connection, we open another terminal and use netcat on our desktop system:

Receiving the data
$ nc 5555 | pv > image.dd
14.7GB 0:45:32 [ 5.5MB/s] [                               <=>                ]

In the new window (remember, our first session is waiting for a connection), we simply make the connection by telling netcat the destination ( and port (5555) with which to connect. We optionally pipe the data through the pv command, which measures the data passing through the connection and redirect the output to a file called image.dd. Without the pv command, in the event you don’t have it installed or don’t wish to measure the output, would be: nc 5555 > image.dd.

As you can see from the pv output, we imaged the 16GB Galaxy S3 in a little more than 45 minutes. The JTAG process, which is your only other recourse for imaging a locked S3, averages 27-32 hours, not to mention the need for disassembly, soldering, reassembly and specialized hardware. Does this make the custom recovery technique better than JTAG? Not at all. As always, the needs of the case should dictate your approach.

But what kind of data did we actually net? Let’s take a quick look:

Image partition listing
$ partx -o nr,start,end,size,name image_129349.dd
 1     8192   131071   60M modem
 2   131072   131327  128K sbl1
 3   131328   131839  256K sbl2
 4   131840   132863  512K sbl3
 5   132864   136959    2M aboot
 6   136960   137983  512K rpm
 7   137984   158463   10M boot
 8   158464   159487  512K tz
 9   159488   160511  512K pad
10   160512   180991   10M param
11   180992   208895 13.6M efs
12   208896   215039    3M modemst1
13   215040   221183    3M modemst2
14   221184  3293183  1.5G system
15  3293184 28958719 12.2G userdata
16 28958720 28975103    8M persist
17 28975104 30695423  840M cache
18 30695424 30715903   10M recovery
19 30715904 30736383   10M fota
20 30736384 30748671    6M backup
21 30748672 30754815    3M fsg
22 30754816 30754831    8K ssd
23 30754832 30765071    5M grow

Looks like we have the whole enchilada (the purest reading this will think, "no, that only proves you have the partition table" and they’d be right!). On further examination, we’d find that we can mount the partitions and examine them without difficulty. As an aside, I have found partx to be the ideal tool for reading raw Android images. Though I use The Sleuthkit for disk forensics, its not well suited for Android images, basically because Android uses non-standards compliant file name schema.

Traveling Forward in Time

Android 4.2.2 might be the death knell to the custom recovery approach.

Note: When you connect a device running Android 4.2.2 or higher to your computer, the system shows a dialog asking whether to accept an RSA key that allows debugging through this computer. This security mechanism protects user devices because it ensures that USB debugging and other adb commands cannot be executed unless you’re able to unlock the device and acknowledge the dialog. This requires that you have adb version 1.0.31 (available with SDK Platform-tools r16.0.1 and higher) in order to debug on a device running Android 4.2.2 or higher.

— "Android Developers"

But, then again, maybe not. The Quote above states that adb will not work until it is authorized by the User through the device interface, i.e., the standard operating system. What about recovery? It remains to be seen.

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