Dan [the] Salmon

Cracking a Locked Apple Note

Dan Salmon

March 06 2024

There is a note in Apple Notes on my phone that I cannot open.

The note is not mission critical (gift ideas for my family members), but I would like to have access to it again. I created the note September 21, 2022 and at some point thought it would be funny to put an additional password on a note that contains such trivial information. Some time in the last 6 months, something changed with the note. I used to be able to use TouchID to unlock it, but it began prompting me for a password. Having set it more than a year prior and never having entered it again (to my recollection), I could not remember what it was. I tried all the simple “dumb” passwords I use when temporarily setting up user accounts, but could not get in.

What is a hacker to do when they’ve forgotten their own password?

I started searching online for guides on how to “crack apple notes password”. I found that hashcat has support for cracking “Apple Secure Notes” hashes. I am very familiar with hashcat so this was great news, but I didn’t know how to extract a hash from my iPhone - this sounded like something that would require a jailbroken phone.

Eventually I came across this in-depth research into Apple Notes encryption by Jon Baumann of Ciofeca Forensics. The article introduces a tool called Apple Cloud Notes Parser which ingests an iPhone backup (made by iTunes) and produces plaintext files of all the contained Apple Notes. One of the flags it has is --password-file - this is a file of passwords to try when decrypting any encrypted notes.

I already had a full local backup of my phone, but I encrypt my backups so I had to disable this option and run a new full backup. This took quite a while as the backup was 200GB (256GB capacity iPhone). After it had finally completed, I ran the parser script without any password-file to see what would happen. The tool creates a whole bunch of files including HTML versions of each note, extracted images, and a NoteStore.sqlite database.

│ debug_log.txt
│ Manifest.db
│ notes.sqlite
│ NoteStore.sqlite
│       note_store_accounts_1.csv
│       note_store_accounts_2.csv
│       note_store_cloudkit_participants_1.csv
│       note_store_cloudkit_participants_2.csv
│       note_store_embedded_objects_1.csv
│       note_store_embedded_objects_2.csv
│       note_store_folders_1.csv
│       note_store_folders_2.csv
│       note_store_notes_1.csv
│       note_store_notes_2.csv
│   ├───Media
│   │   └───F0FC4CFE-E5A9-4F7E-BF3C-3425B06A55BF
│   │           B6BB473B-02E1-4990-8769-185D2E78EDC1.jpg
│   └───Previews
│           19239C6C-864E-4A28-9220-696E81B421B3-1-768x768-1.png
│       all_notes_1.html
│       all_notes_2.html

I looked for the encrypted note contents, but the parser of course didn’t know what to do with it.


Trying again to recall my password, I figured that I had probably used a dumb password since the note was not important. Chances were pretty good I had used that password for things like temporarily spinning up services in my homelab. If I had, there was a chance it was saved in my 1Password vault so I exported all the account data from my 1Password account to a CSV, then used miller to filter down to just the passwords.

mlr --csv cut -f Password 1PasswordExport.csv >> passwords.txt

I re-ran apple_cloud_notes_parser with the password file but had no luck.

At this point my thoughts turned towards traditional password cracking. How could I extract a hash from this backup that I could then feed to a cracking tool? As usual, it turns out there’s a john script for that: applenotes2john.py. This worked perfectly to extract a John-compatible hash from NoteStore.sqlite, but I am much more experienced with using hashcat so I tried pointing hashcat at it but got an error message about the hash format.

I tried changing the hash to match the example listed on the example_hashes page, but couldn’t get past the Separator unmatched error.

To make sure the hash was valid, I then downloaded a binary of John which had no trouble with it. To crack the password, I opted for a Mask Attack. I figured that I probably set a really simple password of between 4 and 6 characters of alphanumeric and maybe 1 or 2 special characters. I launched a test run:

.\john.exe --mask='?a?a?a?a' H:\Sync\hashes.txt

One of the advantages of john over hashcat is the commands are generally much shorter. I was soon reminded why I never use John on this machine - it doesn’t seem to recognize my GPU (Nvidia 1050 Ti) even with Cuda installed. It’s probably user error, but as a result John listed an ETA of 15 hours to run through the 4-character keyspace using only the CPU (Ryzen 5 1600).

I started searching to see how to enable Nvidia GPU support for John, but a lot of the articles I found involved recompiling it from source or copying DLLs around my system. At this point it was around 1AM and I figured I’d just let John chug through the night and take another run at making hashcat work in the morning

The next day I checked the progress and John was patiently waiting with a prize:

>.\john.exe --mask='?a?a?a?a' H:\Sync\hashes.txt
Warning: detected hash type "notes", but the string is also recognized as "notes-opencl"
Use the "--format=notes-opencl" option to force loading these as that type instead
Using default input encoding: UTF-8
Loaded 1 password hash (notes, Apple Notes [PBKDF2-SHA256 AES 256/256 AVX2 8x])
Cost 1 (iteration count) is 20000 for all loaded hashes
Will run 12 OpenMP threads
Press 'q' or Ctrl-C to abort, almost any other key for status
0g 0:00:12:37 1.36% (ETA: 15:00:18) 0g/s 1458p/s 1458c/s 1458C/s 0xge..mLge
0g 0:00:19:00 2.02% (ETA: 15:10:58) 0g/s 1441p/s 1441c/s 1441C/s py:e..fu:e
asdf             (NoteStore.sqlite)
1g 0:05:12:35 DONE (2024-03-02 04:42) 0.000053g/s 1425p/s 1425c/s 1425C/s 5ndf..u0df
Use the "--show" option to display all of the cracked passwords reliably
Session completed

Wow, the password I chose was even dumber than I thought!

Out of curiosity, I looked back at my attempts to use hashcat and realized the other dumb mistake I made - I had mistakenly used mode -m 16500 (JWT - JSON Web Token) instead of -m 16200 (Apple Secure Notes) 🤦. I corrected the mistake and hashcat proceeded to crack the hash in 6(!) minutes using the GPU.

> .\hashcat.exe -m 16200 H:\Sync\hashes_hc.txt --session apple-notes --status -w 3 -a 3 "?a?a?a?a"
hashcat (v6.2.6) starting


Session..........: apple-notes
Status...........: Cracked
Hash.Mode........: 16200 (Apple Secure Notes)
Hash.Target......: $ASN$*107*20000*86e7184911aa4090f24d7e701b5c6b05*dd...acb576
Time.Started.....: Sat Mar 02 09:05:25 2024 (6 mins, 24 secs)
Time.Estimated...: Sat Mar 02 09:11:49 2024 (0 secs)
Kernel.Feature...: Pure Kernel
Guess.Mask.......: ?a?a?a?a [4]
Guess.Queue......: 1/1 (100.00%)
Speed.#1.........:    18628 H/s (66.29ms) @ Accel:4 Loops:1024 Thr:1024 Vec:1
Recovered........: 1/1 (100.00%) Digests (total), 1/1 (100.00%) Digests (new)
Progress.........: 7151616/81450625 (8.78%)
Rejected.........: 0/7151616 (0.00%)
Restore.Point....: 73728/857375 (8.60%)
Restore.Sub.#1...: Salt:0 Amplifier:5-6 Iteration:19456-19999
Candidate.Engine.: Device Generator
Candidates.#1....: a2jm -> a+(0
Hardware.Mon.#1..: Temp: 82c Fan: 49% Util:100% Core:1670MHz Mem:3504MHz Bus:16
Started: Sat Mar 02 09:05:21 2024
Stopped: Sat Mar 02 09:11:50 2024

I punched in the password and was greeted with my years old list of christmas gift ideas which I will not share here because they’re classified. Success!