One cryptography expert said that ‘serious flaws’ in the way Samsung phones encrypt sensitive material, as revealed by academics, are ’embarrassingly bad.’
Samsung shipped an estimated 100 million smartphones with botched encryption, including models ranging from the 2017 Galaxy S8 on up to last year’s Galaxy S21.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University found what they called “severe” cryptographic design flaws that could have let attackers siphon the devices’ hardware-based cryptographic keys: keys that unlock the treasure trove of security-critical data that’s found in smartphones.
What’s more, cyber attackers could even exploit Samsung’s cryptographic missteps – since addressed in multiple CVEs – to downgrade a device’s security protocols. That would set up a phone to be vulnerable to future attacks: a practice known as IV (initialization vector) reuse attacks. IV reuse attacks screw with the encryption randomization that ensures that even if multiple messages with identical plaintext are encrypted, the generated corresponding ciphertexts will each be distinct.
In a paper (PDF) entitled “Trust Dies in Darkness: Shedding Light on Samsung’s TrustZone Keymaster Design” – written by by Alon Shakevsky, Eyal Ronen and Avishai Wool – the academics explain that nowadays, smartphones control data that includes sensitive messages, images and files; cryptographic key management; FIDO2 web authentication; digital rights management (DRM) data; data for mobile payment services such as Samsung Pay; and enterprise identity management.
The design flaws primarily affect devices that use ARM’s TrustZone technology: the hardware support provided by ARM-based Android smartphones (which are the majority) for a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) to implement security-sensitive functions.
TrustZone splits a phone into two portions, known as the Normal world (for running regular tasks, such as the Android OS) and the Secure world, which handles the security subsystem and where all sensitive resources reside. The Secure world is only accessible to trusted applications used for security-sensitive functions, including encryption.
Matthew Green, associate professor of computer science at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, explained on Twitter that Samsung incorporated “serious flaws” in the way its phones encrypt key material in TrustZone, calling it “embarrassingly bad.”
“They used a single key and allowed IV re-use,” Green said.
“So they could have derived a different key-wrapping key for each key they protect,” he continued. “But instead Samsung basically doesn’t. Then they allow the app-layer code to pick encryption IVs.” The design decision allows for “trivial decryption,” he said.
Others called out Samsung coders for committing “a cardinal cryptographic sin.” Namely, They used a proper encryption algorithm (in this case, AES-GCM) improperly.
Loosely speaking, AES-GCM needs a fresh burst of securely chosen random data for every new encryption operation – that’s not just a ‘nice-to-have’ feature, it’s an algorithmic requirement. In internet standards language, it’s a MUST, not a SHOULD. That fresh-every-time randomness (12 bytes’ worth at least for the AES-GCM cipher mode) is known as a ‘nonce,’ short for Number Used Once – a jargon word that cryptographic programmers should treat as an *command*, not merely as a noun.
Unfortunately, Samsung’s supposedly secure cryptographic code didn’t enforce that requirement. Indeed, it allowed an app running outside the secure encryption hardware component not only to influence the nonces used inside it, but even to choose those nonces exactly, deliberately and malevolently, repeating them as often as the app’s creator wanted.
The security flaws not only allow cybercriminals to steal cryptographic keys stored on the device: They also let attackers bypass security standards such as FIDO2.
According to The Register, as of the researchers’ disclosure of the flaws to Samsung in May 2021, nearly 100 million Samsung Galaxy phones were jeopardized.
Samsung responded to the academics’ disclosure by issuing a patch for affected devices that addressed CVE-2021-25444: an IV reuse vulnerability in the Keymaster Trusted Application (TA) that runs in the TrustZone. Keymaster TA carries out cryptographic operations in the Secure world via hardware, including a cryptographic engine. The Keymaster TA uses blobs, which are keys “wrapped” (encrypted) via AES-GCM. The vulnerability allowed for decryption of custom key blobs.
Then, in July 2021, the researchers revealed a downgrade attack – one that lets attacker trigger IV reuse vulnerability with privileged process. Samsung issued another patch – to address CVE-2021-25490 – that remoged the legacy blob implementation from devices including Samsung’s Galaxy S10, S20 and S21 phones.
D2D encryption in the Helix22 SDK
Personal and Business Data Security is at the very heart of what we are striving to achieve at BLAKFX. We all know that data theft and cyberattacks are a tangible threat to all of our collective well-being. Business and government simply cannot operate nor thrive if the threat of theft or exposure is omnipresent.
The new era of data security is one that requires new solutions. The era of perimeter defenses is over as it is proving impossible to keep hackers from breaching the perimeter and accessing data. Further E2E encryption based on old models of RSA cryptography will be obsolete when quantum computing becomes mainstream.
Helix22 delivers perfect security assurance due to our genius engineering team that has invented a new model for data security that required an innovative look at the problem. The approach we took was to protect the data itself. Almost all other data security products try to build a perimeter or being fanatic on user credentials. However, once the product is breached or a password is stolen, even if it is 2FA or encrypted, your firms data is in the clear.
You see, the Helix22 cryptography is embedded with the data itself through our inventive and patented process of DNA BindingTM. Therefore, even if credentials are stolen the data cannot be exfiltrated. This means that all data is 100% protected regardless of the type of attack. This holds true for customer and user data as well. No theft of user information is possible.
We can make this claim as the tech engineers at BLAKFX invented and patented a genuine device2device (D2D) encryption. We manage data security transmission through the truly brilliant and also patented universal Helix22 key service. The Helix22 encryption originates on your network or device, not just when the app is opened. This means, that when data arrives to our key server, it is already encrypted so all it needs to do is issue another key. Signal and Telegram cannot claim this level of security. This key will then only work with the intended device, which generates a matching key required to open the data. In this protocol, we are truly a “zero-knowledge” server so your communications and transmissions remain completely top secret. Even in the event that BLAKFX were subpoenaed, we can honor the request by just handing over the encrypted content…as that is literally all we have. Helix22 also only use keys just one-time and then destroys them. This way the data security is future forward prefect. Therefore, in our unique device-to-device (D2D) world, there is no opportunity at all for any data leak.
This same protocol just described, can be the same with all your 3rd party vendors and suppliers. It does not matter in the least what platform they are running or what device they are using or even the type of data, it is all 100% protected. We do however, strongly advise that all firms involved be utilizing Helix22 due to the nature of the data content. Helix22 can ensure that whatever data they are generating is protected as well.
Let’s take it a step further. Even if your organization were a victim of an internal attack or a victim of malicious open source downloads, there is no reason for concern. Any data that has been forwarded, downloaded, copied or saved cannot be exfiltrated. Period. We have the technology industries foremost data packets which are protected with multi-layered, military grade encryption algorithms that have already proven the ability to withstand penetration testing from MI5 and quantum computing attacks.
One final practical genius of DNA BindingTM is in that it is immediately compatible with whichever system or software you are utilizing. Therefore, any organization can forward information to another and then discuss it and there is immediate privacy.
The Helix22 data security SDK accomplishes the following:
- Protects all your firms data at rest, in use and in transit
- Renders ransomware threats obsolete
- Eliminates human error
- Eliminates all malicious or interior attacks
- Verifies original content i.e. minimizes the threat of impersonation attacks and deep fakes
- Reduces latency and optimizes 5G networks
- Installs with 5 lines of code
- Runs on any platform, network, device and in any programming language
- Provides perfect future/forward secrecy
- Delivers “zero-knowledge” encryption
- Compatible with all cloud, 3rd party and vendor services
- Enables Internet of Things data security by providing protection at the Edge and has ultra low latency
- Ensures privacy and security for blockchain and all cryptocurrency transactions
- Is quantum ready – so there’s no need to upgrade when the time comes
- Requires no employee training
- Exceeds all gov’t and banking security standards
- Meets all international compliance regulations
BLAKFX is Based on Success
Our founders, Robert Statica PhD and Kara Coppa, also founded Wickr, which is used by the US military and has never been hacked since its inception in 2012. The Helix22 data security SDK is several generations enhanced since then. Dr. Statica also delivered the encryption for the world’s most secure phone, Katim.
Founder – Robert Statica PhD Founder – Kara Coppa Founder – Alex Maslov MS, MBA
Co-Founders of Wickr KatimTM Ultra Secure Smartphone
Finally, the Helix22 encryption is quantum computing ready so no need to redo all your data security methodologies in a couple of years when everything else becomes obsolete.
We like to refer to Helix22 as “22nd Century Data Security.”
Helix22 – Zero Risk