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Are Wireless Networks Secure?

Learn some about wireless networks and some of the security issues they face compared to wired networks and how to fix them.

Wireless networks are generally a weaker alternative to a hardwire connections. Why is this? Well, if the wireless network’s traffic is open, then anyone within range can gain access which means it’s vulnerable to a ‘sniffing attack’. Modern wireless networks get around this by using encryption that requires a secret key. 

How are wireless networks secured?

Wireless networks are generally secure; they use the standard WPA2-PSK(AES) or WPA3. These standards exist to encrypt the handshake or initial connection between the user’s device and the router. This means an attacker who is looking at traffic near them cannot see the password in the air. They are unable to use it to authenticate and gain access to the devices on the network. Older versions of WPA vulnerabilities that enable attackers to steal passwords are available. They can intercept a packet and crack the password allowing them to use it to get onto the network. 

WPA2 is still vulnerable to these cracking attacks. However, using tougher encryption and a more complex password can make it harder for an attacker to crack.

Deauthentication attacks

All WPA2 protected wireless networks are vulnerable to a suite of attacks called de-auth attacks. These attacks can knock a user off the network and force them to reconnect. These can also collect the handshake and steal a Wifi password to crack or to keep devices off the network. There is no need for a password to the network and can be extremely effective at DOS (denial of service). These types of attacks are defendable but often defences are not active on the network. In turn, this leaves them open to exploitation and the removal of users from the network. 

Fake Access points

Fake access points can pose a dramatic risk to users of a network. If it is possible to trick a user into connecting to an attacker’s access point this can be a basis for Large attacks on the user. Fake access points use names as close to the target network as possible. Once a user connects to one of these access points, it is then possible to mount attacks against their devices and data. It is possible to steal login information for websites and change device settings. Often, this allows attackers to gain complete control over the network and eventually users’ devices. 

These attacks commonly work in conjunction with De-auth attacks in order to frustrate a target into changing Wifi networks or forcing them to connect to the fake access point. 

War Driving

Wardriving is the activity of searching for wireless networks covertly on the move and hacking into them remotely. It is aptly named by attackers who find that they can do this more efficiently using their equipment from the safety of their car as they drove past.

WEP Cracking

The WEPWPA and WPA2 encryption methods are now out of date and have vulnerabilities. These are still in use in businesses who are failing to learn about their vulnerabilities or update their offending hardware. The flaws in WEP make it susceptible to statistical cracking techniques and making this mistake is still common.

Evil Twin

An Evil Twin is a hidden fraudulent Wi-Fi access point that but can eavesdrop on wireless connections after executing a denial of service attack and re-establishing itself as the legitimate connection. This is a classic ‘Man in the Middle’ attack in which the attacker can prompt the victim to disclose sensitive personal information and capture their credentials.

How to protect your wifi access point

Your wireless access point is the first line of defence against hackers and your data. If you have a router or wireless access point ensure you change all default passwords, set the protocol to  WPA2-PSK(AES) at a minimum and WPA3 if your router supports it. Ensure you keep an eye out for fake access points and warn staff and find the source of the access point.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Wireless networks themselves cannot get viruses. Although there has been a number of attacks on the standards used by wireless networks such as KRACK. Routers and other devices which create wireless networks can also be vulnerable to attack meaning an attacker could potentially take control of a wireless network and use it to steal data or attack other people in the network. It is also possible to create a Rouge access point that can masquerade as a safe network and be used to steal data from the people that connect.

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Wireless networks have many differences from wired networks. Wireless networks work on the 802.11 standards for WI-FI. Because the information is sent through the air it also opens up wireless networks for different kinds of attacks including packet sniffing and KRACK. Wireless networks are also much more open to interference or noise which can degrade service over distance. Because of this wired networks are often used for long-distance networking and infrastructure requiring stable connections.