Speaker Deck

Faux Disk Encryption: Realities of Secure Storage on Mobile Devices

by Daniel A. Mayer

Published November 13, 2015 in Technology

Presented with Drew Suarez at BlackHat EU 2015 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The number of mobile users has recently surpassed the number of desktop users, emphasizing the importance of mobile device security. In traditional browser-server applications, data tends to be stored on the server side where tight controls can be enforced. In contrast, many mobile applications cache data locally on the device thus exposing it to a number of new attack vectors. Moreover, locally stored data often includes authentication tokens that are, compared to browser applications, typically long-lived. One main concern is the loss or theft of a device which grants an attacker physical access which may be used to bypass security controls in order to gain access to application data. Depending on the application's data, this can result in a loss of privacy (e.g., healthcare data, personal pictures and messages) or loss of intellectual property in the case of sensitive corporate data.

In this talk, we discuss the challenges mobile app developers face in securing data stored on devices including mobility, accessibility, and usability requirements. Given these challenges we first debunk common misconceptions about full-disk encryption and show why it is not sufficient for most attack scenarios. We then systematically introduce the more sophisticated secure storage techniques that are available for iOS and Android respectively. For each platform, we discuss in-depth which mechanisms are available, how they technically operate, and whether they fulfill the practical security and usability requirements. We conclude the talk with an analysis of what still can go wrong even when current best-practices are followed and what the security and mobile device community can do to address these shortcomings.

At the end of our talk, attendees will understand the significant challenges involved in storing data on an always-on and portable device, how to securely store data for different use cases, and how to uncover secure storage flaws in real-world applications.