Most Sleeping Laptops Vulnerable to Cold Boot Attacks

New cold boot attack affects

Known for its volatility in data retention when out of power, RAM (Random Access Memory) can preserve information for a longer time - even minutes, under low-temperature conditions.

Security PIN entry on reboot is also a useful mitigation technique, and this can easily be enabled if, for example, you have Bitlocker installed.

"It's not exactly easy to do, but it's not a hard enough issue to find and exploit for us to ignore the probability that some attackers have already figured this out", Olle Segerdahl, one of the F-Secure researchers who developed the attack, said in a statement released this morning (Sept. 13).

In the meantime, he recommends companies prepare themselves for these attacks. Perhaps the one saving grace here is that someone needs to have physical access to your computer and enough time to take it apart in order to steal any data. Normal computers are not considered as a target to such an attack as compared to the computers that store valuable information like the ones owned by government agencies and businesses.

An "evil maid" could use this attack to extract secrets from laptops left in hotel rooms, and an "evil" IT technician could do the same to an office machine overnight or even during a targeted individual's lunch hour. "But it is the kind of thing that attackers looking for bigger phish, like a bank or large enterprise, will know how to use", he added.

Look at that laptop over there, lid closed and sleeping soundly. You can see how this works in the video F-Secure produced below demonstrating the attack on real hardware. The attack attaches a specially created tool to attack the motherboard's UEFI module, which alters the boot code to stop the memory overwrite.

"Encryption keys aren't stored in the RAM when a machine hibernates or shuts down".

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A third echoed, 'Wow, she's so real'. "I see it in her eyes, I see it in her face and I see it in her smile". The elder sister went on to add , "She owes my father a lot of love and respect".

F-Secure's researchers presented their findings at a conference in Sweden on Thursday, and are set to present it again at Microsoft's security conference on September 27.

Even if your computer's disk is encrypted with Microsoft BitLocker or Apple's FileVault, an attacker could perform this new type of cold-boot attack and search your RAM for the disk-encryption keys.

Encryption keys and other sensitive information can then be stolen from memory and full access gained to the system.

When in sleep mode, the computer state is saved in RAM, which runs in a minimum power state to hold the data.

The two researchers presented the attack today at SEC-T security conference, where they explained the technical details and methods to bypass security implementations, such as booting a USB stick on systems that have Secure Boot enabled. He said that they had notified Intel, Microsoft, and Apple about his team's discovery and are working with these companies to provide better guidance to users and improve the security of current and future products.

Apple responded by pointing to the latest generation of Macs, which have the T2 chip that do the encryption separately from the CPU and makes such an attack more hard to execute.

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