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Bring your laptop, leave your dictionary

A pair of security researchers claim to have partially cracked WPA encryption, with an attack that takes around 15 minutes.

The technique relies on an undisclosed “mathematical breakthrough,” say researchers Erik Tews and Martin Beck, and breaks the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) key used to encrypt data between a wireless router and its clients. Currently, the attack works only one way: data traveling from the access point to its clients is vulnerable, while data traveling in the opposite direction is not.

The only other known, effective attack against a WPA connection relies on computationally-intensive dictionary attacks, which involves testing wireless data against an extremely large list of educated guesses until one of them successfully decrypts the data in question.

Tews and Beck’s attack lowers these requirements considerably, allowing anyone with the knowledge, a laptop, and 15 minutes of time the ability to listen in on one side of a WPA-encrypted wireless connection.

CNet notes that Tews is no stranger to wireless hacking, as he also co-authored a 2007 paper (PDF) discussing how to crack a 104-bit WEP key in 60 seconds.

The duo will reveal their findings at next week’s Tokyo, Japan-based PacSec security conference in a presentation titled, “Gone in 900 Seconds, Some Crypto Issues with WPA”.

According to PC World, some of the pair’s research already is already appearing in wireless security tools.

Companies and internet users looking to keep their wireless networks secure will have to upgrade to WPA2 now, says PacSec organizer Dragos Ruiu.

“Everybody has been saying, 'Go to WPA because WEP is broken,'” he said. “This is a break in WPA.”

While it is too early to tell how the WPA attack will be exploited by criminal organizations, many companies are still in the process of transitioning to WPA from weaker standards like WEP, or no encryption at all. Hackers hit one such company, T.J. Maxx, in January 2007 from secured WEP access points; they ran off with one of the largest credit-card hauls in history and caused more than $200 million in damage.

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RE: WPA? TKIP? Pfah!
By Yawgm0th on 11/7/2008 11:30:12 AM , Rating: 2
How about to steal bandwidth and commit crimes using your Internet? Or maybe just to sniff your traffic and grab your credit card or bank account information when you go online. A report I read not long ago (I want to say DT posted it, come to think of it) indicated many bank's web sites don't even have SSL properly implemented when you go to login, so that a MitM attack could easily grab your bank info.

I'm tired of this fallacy that if you are just some residential user that there is no incentive to break into your wireless.

RE: WPA? TKIP? Pfah!
By Suntan on 11/7/2008 12:58:00 PM , Rating: 2
I'm tired of this fallacy that just because you are on wireless, someone is going to steal your CC number or your network bandwidth.

I have the wireless router in the basement, with stucco siding (metal lath inside it makes a nice faraday cage.) You can't get a signal from the street even with a directional antenna. You can get one if you are about 50 feet from the back door, or to put it another way 30 inside my back yard.

Yeah, I suppose a couple of goons can ride up with a really elaborate antenna setup to hear my wpa network. Or go commando in the middle of the night and setup in my backyard. I'm guessing I have more to worry about when Jimmy at Red Robin walks away from our table with my CC, that I just gave him to ring up, though.


RE: WPA? TKIP? Pfah!
By GaryJohnson on 11/8/2008 8:23:59 AM , Rating: 2
If Jimmy at Red Robin walks away with your CC your going to know it's gone and you can cancel it. What's bad is when you're at Red Robins and Jimmy goes to ring you up and those goons with the antenna setup have left you with a $0 balance.

RE: WPA? TKIP? Pfah!
By glennpratt on 12/4/2008 1:15:32 AM , Rating: 2
Here's the problem, when virtually every one else in the world could have the same vulnerable setup. Sure, odds are it won't happen to you - but it probably will happen to someone.

Frankly, it's pretty rare that any news will apply directly to you, so I don't know why you act like you surprised in this case.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner
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