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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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By michaelklachko on 11/7/2008 3:24:00 PM , Rating: 2
I don't use any encryption on my wireless network. I don't mind sharing my internet connection with others. It's unlimited, it's always on, and I use it less than 5% of the time.

RE: funny
By Hare on 11/7/2008 4:09:00 PM , Rating: 2
The issue is not about losing bandwidth. It's about losing privacy, without encryption anyone can monitor what you download, where you browse, what kind of passwords you are using (unless the connection is encrypted e.g. https). Another thing is that it exposes your computer to LAN attacks. It's pretty unsecure to have network drives in LAN if the wifi can be accessed by anyone... It also exposes you to other nasty incidents. What if someone from your IP downloads something illegal and leaves a trace. Of course an open wlan is an excuse, but I bet everyone would rather avoid the hassle.

It takes a minute or two to secure an access point so I really don't see why anyone shouldn't do it unless one wants to specially give public access to the Internet.

RE: funny
By michaelklachko on 11/7/2008 6:40:14 PM , Rating: 2
I think any discussion about protection should start with what is to be protected, and who is after it. Is there anything truly valuable on your computer that needs advanced protection? I'm talking about something more than your CC number, or email password (which, as you pointed out, are encrypted already). Are you watching child porn on your computer? Do you have access to classified military information? Do you email plans to kill someone? Probably not. That means it's unlikely someone would be particularly interested in your PC.

Personally, I don't care enough to protect my wireless network. Yes, there's a risk that someone will download something nasty that can get me in trouble. However, that person probably realizes my network could be a honeypot, and I might call the police saying someone within 100 feet from my house is committing a crime. So this risk is small enough for me to ignore. And if I ever want real privacy, I will take a number of steps to protect myself.

You are right, it's easy to secure an access point, so if you want to secure it, by all means, do it. I'm just saying, most people don't care.

RE: funny
By Hare on 11/8/2008 2:55:42 AM , Rating: 2
Most people are ignorant and don't understand the risks. Many wifi networks have network shares that are not protected so nothing is stopping the guest from downloading e.g. vacation pictures etc.

As you said. Most people don't care but usually it's just that they don't understand the issue. They plug in the router, connect to it and forget about it. They don't even think that someone else might also connect to it.

Ps. I think someone in my appartment understood the situation when I used his printer to deliver the message "Your all files are visible to anyone in the neighbourhood. You might want to setup a password to your wireless network".

"Death Is Very Likely The Single Best Invention Of Life" -- Steve Jobs
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