Windows 8 stores logon passwords in plain-text
In one of our previous articles, you could read about ways to recover text passwords in Windows without brute-forcing them, locations in the system where text passwords could reside and tools used for the recovery. It turns out the release of Windows 8 is not without another fly in the ointment either. Our experts have discovered a serious flaw in the two new ways of logging on to the system. We are talking about Picture password and PIN.
The matter is that these two authentication methods are based on a regular user account. In other words, the user must first have created an account with a regular password and then optionally switch to PIN or picture password authentication. Notably that the original plain-text (!) password to the account also remains in the system.
Once the user has switched to a new authentication method, his text password is encrypted using the AES algorithm and saved to protected Vault storage in the following folder:
This system folder contains Vault records with SIDs and text passwords of all users with active PIN or picture password authentication. The text password is not bound to the PIN or picture password; therefore, any user of the PC with the Administrator privileges can easily recover it (the encryption key is protected with system DPAPI).
Pic. 1. Decrypting passwords for all users with active PIN or picture password authentication.
Briefly, Vault can be described as a protected storage for user's private data. Windows Vault emerged with the release of Windows 7 and could store various network passwords. In Windows 8, Vault has extended its functionality; it has become a more universal storage but at the same time lost its compatibility with the previous versions. Thus, the 'old' Vault implements a custom password protection. While in Windows 8, it seems, this feature is frozen and it uses DPAPI-based protection only. Windows Vault is used by other applications as well. For example, Internet Explorer 10 uses it to store passwords to websites.
Some of our password recovery utilities already implement Windows 8 plain-text password decryption. The upcoming release of Windows Password Recovery is expected to have a full-fledged Vault analyzer and offline decoder.