For years we've all depended on the WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) protocol to secure our Wi-Fi networks. That all comes to an end today.
Security researcher Mathy Vanhoef has revealed what he has labeled KRACK; an exploit that attacks a vulnerability in the handshake of the WPA2 protocol that you most likely use to protect your Wi-Fi at home and millions of small businesses around the world use, too.
Update: iOS 11.2 fixes the KRACK exploit on the following older iOS devices: iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 5s, 12.9-inch iPad Pro 1st generation, iPad Air 2, iPad Air, iPad 5th generation, iPad mini 4, iPad mini 3, iPad mini 2, and iPod touch 6th generation.
Speaking at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Dallas, Vanhoef explained that this exploit may allow packet sniffing, connection hijacking, malware injection, and even decryption of the protocol itself. The vulnerability has been disclosed to the people who need to know these sorts of things early to find a fix and US-CERT (United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team) has released this prepared bulletin:
According to a researcher who has been briefed on the vulnerability, it works by exploiting a four-way handshake that's used to establish a key for encrypting traffic. During the third step, the key can be resent multiple times. When it's resent in certain ways, a cryptographic nonce can be reused in a way that completely undermines the encryption.
How do I stay safe?
To be honest, for the next couple of days there aren't a ton of public options available to you. We're not going to tell you how it works or where to find more information on how exactly the attack works. But we can tell you what you can (and should do) to stay as safe as possible.
- Avoid public Wi-Fi at all costs. This includes Google's protected Wi-Fi hotspots until Google says otherwise. If your carrier forces your phone to Wi-Fi when in range, visit the forum for your phone to see if there's a workaround to stop it from happening.
- Only connect to secured services. Web pages that use HTTPS or another secure connection will include HTTPS in the URL. You should contact any company whose services you use and ask if the connection is secured using TLS 1.2, and if so your connection with that service is safe for now.
- If you have a paid VPN service that you trust you should enable the connection full-time until further notice. Resist the temptation to rush and sign-up for any free VPN service until you can find out if they have been vetted and will keep your data secure. Most don't.
- Use a wired network if your router and computer both have a spot to plug in an Ethernet cable. This exploit only affects 802.11 traffic between a Wi-Fi router and a connected device. Ethernet cables are relatively cheap and an eyesore strung across the carpet is worth it. Look for a Cat6 or Cat5e spec cable and there should be no configuration needed once plugged in.
- If you use a Chromebook or MacBook, this USB Ethernet adapter is plug-and-play.
What could happen if I am on an attacked network?
This hack can't steal your banking information or Google password (or any data on a correctly secured connection that uses end-to-end encryption). While an intruder may be able to capture the data you send and receive, it can't be used or even read by anyone. You can't even read it unless you allow your phone or computer to decrypt and unscramble it first.
An attacker may be able to do things like redirect traffic on a Wi-Fi network or even send bogus data in place of the real thing. This means something harmless like printing a thousand copies of gibberish on a networked printer or something dangerous like sending malware as a reply to a legitimate request for information or a file. The best way to protect yourself is to not use Wi-Fi at all until you're directed otherwise.
Update: Several vendors have released a patch for testing that fixes the exploit. This means the sky is not falling, and we should start seeing updates from other companies, like Apple, very soon.
Ubiquiti has been said to already have a patch ready to deploy for their equipment, and if this turns out to be true we should see the same from companies like Google or Apple very soon. Other, less security-conscious companies may take longer and many routers will never see a patch. Some companies who make routers are much like some companies who make Android phones: any desire to support the product stops when your money reaches their bank.
Of course, if this rumor turns out to be false all bets are off.
Does this really matter?
This is not a case where you should feel immune because your data isn't valuable enough. The majority of attacks using this exploit will be opportunistic. Kids who live in your building, shady characters who drive the neighborhood looking for Wi-Fi APs and general mischief makers are already scanning Wi-Fi networks around them.
WPA2 has had a long and fruitful life with nary a public exploit until today. Here's hoping the fix, or what comes next, can enjoy the same. Stay safe!
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