Krack WiFi

Manila Bulletin - - Front Page - By MARK ISA­IAH DAVID

Vul­ner­a­bil­ity Ex­plained Sim­ply

Re­cently, the whole world was rocked by the news that a par­tic­u­lar vul­ner­a­bil­ity in a widely-used-WiFi pro­to­col lets at­tack­ers eaves­drop on de­vices and wire­less ac­cess points. The Key Re­in­stal­la­tion At­tack (KRACK) is a se­ri­ous se­cu­rity weak­ness, and since al­most every­one and his mother uses WiFi, what this means is that we’re all po­ten­tially screwed.

So how ex­actly can at­tack­ers cap­i­tal­ize on this vul­ner­a­bil­ity, what can they do to you, and how should you pro­tect your­self? Here’s what you need to know:

WHO IS AF­FECTED?

It’s safe to as­sume that al­most any­one who uses WiFi is vul­ner­a­ble. WPA2 is the cur­rent stan­dard and that means ev­ery de­vice — ev­ery com­puter, tablet, and phone — is in ques­tion. This is why the KRACK is scary. It’s not just be­cause of what it can do, but be­cause al­most every­one is ex­posed.

HOW AT­TACK­ERS EX­PLOIT THE VUL­NER­A­BIL­ITY

A hacker would need two things: a net­work that uses WPA2-PSK (Wi-Fi Pro­tected Ac­cess 2 - Pre-Shared Key) and an in­di­vid­ual who would con­nect to it. And since WPA2-PSK is the most se­cure among the usual WiFi pro­to­cols (WEP, WPA, and WPA2), this could hap­pen any­where – in cof­fee shops, at the air­port, in schools, and even in your home.

While the user is con­nect­ing to the WiFi hotspot, their de­vice is do­ing a four-way hand­shake – a process that ver­i­fies whether the pass­word be­ing used is cor­rect. This is where the in­ter­fer­ence hap­pens. The hacker ob­tains the ca­pac­ity to ma­nip­u­late the traf­fic in the net­work and do some very bad things.

WHAT’S THE DAN­GER?

Be­cause the hacker is able to in­ter­cept the traf­fic in the net­work, he can mod­ify or out­right fal­sify data, thereby mak­ing ev­ery­thing on non-se­cure web­sites sus­pect. In the­ory, the hacker could also covertly in­sert mal­ware/ran­somware on usu­ally safe sites, which nul­li­fies the ba­sic se­cu­rity prac­tices that we’ve all learned to fol­low such as stay­ing away from shady web­sites or down­load­ing du­bi­ous at­tach­ments. Even worse, the KRACK vul­ner­a­bil­ity ap­plies also on WPA-Enterprise (usu­ally used by large busi­nesses). So if there are no ad­di­tional se­cu­rity lay­ers (pass­words/en­cryp­tion, etc.), the hacker can ac­cess servers and steal data/records.

HOW DO WE STOP IT?

For­tu­nately, ad­dress­ing the is­sue is fairly straight­for­ward: just patch your de­vice. Some big name man­u­fac­tur­ers have al­ready re­leased patches that ad­dress the is­sue. In­stall the lat­est se­cu­rity up­date from your man­u­fac­turer and this should plug the leak.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all is well. Peo­ple can be their own worst ene­mies. My wife, for ex­am­ple, ab­so­lutely ab­hors it when I up­date our de­vices – she claims (I kid you not) that her tablet just gets slower and that I mess things up when I up­date. Some peo­ple don’t know how to up­date their de­vices. Some just don’t care. If you’re feel­ing bold, bet­ter be a hero and just do every­one a fa­vor by up­dat­ing all the de­vices in your house (even if your fam­ily doesn’t thank you for it).

Also, other man­u­fac­tur­ers could be a bit slow in re­leas­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate patch. An­droid users, for ex­am­ple, have a hard time since there are so many man­u­fac­tur­ers and soft­ware up­dates are few and far be­tween. iOS 11.1 al­ready fixed the is­sue; An­droid is sup­posed to have the fix rolled out first on Pixel/ Nexus so if your de­vice isn’t from Google, it may take a bit longer.

Last, other de­vices might not get the ap­pro­pri­ate up­dates at all. I can’t even re­mem­ber when was the last time my Sam­sung 4K TV had an up­date. If you have a smart ref or other con­nected house­hold de­vices, we might be all out of luck.This, more than any­thing else, might make clean­ing up the KRACK vul­ner­a­bil­ity take years.

SHOULD YOU STOP US­ING WPA2?

No. WPA2’s pro­tec­tions/en­cryp­tions still make it the pro­to­col of choice for WiFi net­works. Just up­date your de­vices (and router, if pos­si­ble) im­me­di­ately. If you can also avoid us­ing WiFi when there are strangers around (the at­tack needs to be in prox­im­ity), do so.

The KRACK vul­ner­a­bil­ity teaches us that just be­cause you’re us­ing what’s cur­rently the most se­cure doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally mean that you’re set. Ad­di­tional se­cu­rity mea­sures should al­ways be ob­served: make sure your de­vices are up­dated, only share sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion to se­cure sites, and for big in­sti­tu­tions, your net­works should al­ways have mul­ti­ple lay­ers of pro­tec­tion.

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