Wi-Fi (NOT) Protected Access, Prove Hacking Experts

Article by George Norman (Cybersecurity Editor)

on 10 Nov 2008

WPA (the short version of Wi-Fi Protected Access) is a security protocol that has been adopted by the IT industry ever since it came to light that the WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) protocol poses a high security risk to Wi-Fi users. Thanks to the handiwork of two security experts, it seems that the WPA’s amour is not without a crack in it – there are issues with the TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol).

The two researchers in question, Erik Tews and Martin Beck, will showcase their findings at the 2008 PacSec Conference which will be held this week in Tokyo, Japan. The presentation that Erik Tews plans to make is entitled “Gone in 900 Seconds, Some Crypto Issues with WPA” and is supposed to be one of the highlights of this sixth PacSec conference.

Let’s take a look to wi-fi security history in order to put things in perspective. Before WPA, there was WEP –which was deemed a security risk in 2001 (at this time it was a low risk) and then again in 2007 (by this point in time the German researchers from the University of Technology in Darmstadt came up with such an efficient way of exploiting the security holes in WEP that the risk potential was raised from minor to critical). Ever since then the WPA protocol took its place and ensured that our wi-fi browsing is done safely.

Erik Tews explains: “The new attack on WPA is not a complete key recovery attack. It just allows you to decrypt packets and inject packets with custom content. But there is only a single short-term key recovered during the attack.” In layman’s terms, this means that only networks protected by TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) are affected, and the exploit cannot be used to gain access to private data, it can only be used to inject traffic. Still, this is not to say that the two researchers will not be able to find some other security flaws in the future, flaws that could pose a significant security risk.

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