Networking

Wi-Fi networks face big security risk

Research at Indiana University brought into focus the fast pace and ease with which virus attacks could spread across Wi-Fi routers.

Research at Indiana University brought into focus the fast pace and ease with which virus attacks could spread across Wi-Fi routers.

An excerpt from ZDNet:

The study focused on New York, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, and northern and southern Indiana. In these areas, only 20 percent to 41 percent of routers used WEP or WPA encryption. To gain access to the routers and simulate the spread of malware, the researches attempted to guess the password (many people don’t change the factory default) from a list of 65,000 words that are commonly used. It wasn’t all that difficult, as the results prove. The study concludes by noting that the increasing number of Wi-Fi-enabled components that will connect to routers makes the possibility of infection even more serious.

Use of proper authentication techniques (in this case, WPA over WEP) is definitely a sound strategy to deploy. While the above attacks were just proof-of-concept type, it's a fact that with the proliferation of wireless networks, malware authors are sure to make an attempt.

An alarming fact is that most of the damage would be done within the first few days. The technique used by the researchers was based on the method used for tracking the spread of influenza.

More information:

Urban WiFi Routers at Risk (Dark Reading)

Viruses to infect Wi-Fi networks in 2008? (Tech)

Researchers Postulate Wi-Fi Router Virus (WiFi Net News)

WiFi flu: viral router attack could hit whole cities (Ars Technica)

6 comments
eikelein
eikelein

Scenario: I am called to a home because some computer and/or wireless network malfunction. I am beginning to "clear the landscape" outside in, i.e. I first make sure the router is set up and working correctly. My question for the router password is 99.99% of times met with blank stares and "UGH?" like sounds. Many people don't even have the manuals, user guides or CDs - or they don't know where they have them. So I reset the router to factory condition, eventually use my notebook to get the router's IP from the manufacturer's web site a.s.o. a.s.o. If I have set up the router anew, explained everything to the customer, typed and printed it all is ok at this moment. Two weeks later they don't know about any of that anymore. Although I normally do not keep customer internals I have resorted to keep router and network settings on my USB stick, including passwords, email setup aso. I am sick of ignorance and unwillingness to take in new information. Even when they come up with a password of their own choice it's invariably something stupid like 123456 or their birthday or wedding date. But then, on the flip side, I get paid for it too ;-) To me the research quoted above is NO surprise at all. Attitudes like "if I can't see and touch it it's not important" or "don't confuse me with details" seem to be prevalent. Or can't they read? :-( Crazy that it's not only old people (like myself) but I find these same attitudes as well in young folks.

Oktet
Oktet

"explained everything to the customer, typed and printed it all is ok at this moment. Two weeks later they don't know about any of that anymore." I don't even understand society anymore, I think most customers or end users utilize selective hearing-I don't speak fast when I explain concepts relating to PC security or Router securtiy; however,I strongly believe people don't listen, or if they do they are only listening to what they want to hear: I gave a customer her password verbally, she acknowledged to me that she heard the password, the next day I get a phone call, "what is my password?" Even if you right it down or send an email, it is unbelievable, people will still call you for this information, like you never even brought the subject up. "Crazy that it's not only old people (like myself) but I find these same attitudes as well in young folks." People just want their PC('s)/Router('s)/Network('s) to work, they don't care about the details whether it is secure or not or what type of security implementations are put into place, the only time you hear those pesky calls is when there is a problem about the related technologies, I am starting to think ignorance is a bliss, kinda of like I just want a car from point A to B, I don't need to worry about the engine or gas mileage as long as it gets me from point A to B; however, if it does breakdown I want to get it fixed without knowing or worrying about the details. I thought the details like everything else is important if I want to prevent the same recurring problems from my end users and customers; however, if they don't need the details how will they ever learn to solve the problem by themselves or at least prevent the problem themselves. Recurring problems based on don't give me the details irk me, because you are always fixing the same problem because the user does not want to hear/care (or don't have the time) about the details of the technology they use-wow. Any details related to the techonolgy that I, you or an end user uses are as important as the details related to anyone's health.That is pretty bad when end users and customers tell IT that they don't want the details.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The just want to txt there friends and find "where the party at". I agree. Sure, everyone is into different things and that is fine. The problem here is that putting in a home router and leaving it wide open is like giving your freshly licensed sixteen year old a just tuned Nova including full NOS and bored cylinders; sure, nothing *may* happen but there is just too much potential. As I often say; you don't have to become an F1 race car driver, you just have to be able to drive. There's a long list of people out there who have there shiny new F1 router running full tilt though they can barely find the gas pedal let alone the breaks.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I agree with everyone's take on the fact that many Wi-Fi devices are not properly secured and configured. I guess my point is that the article makes what I consider a major leap from being able to access the router admin page by knowing a password and causing some kind of Wi-Fi epidemic. One just has to consider how hard it is to get two dissimilar devices to "play nice together" when you know all of the configuration information, let alone have all Wi-Fi devices within RF range of each other to become some kind of botnet. George Fleishman of Wi-Fi Networking News has a slightly different take on it that I also agree with: "One thing I don?t see addressed in the report is how many different worms would be required based on the many different models of Wi-Fi routers and the many firmware releases for each. There?s an assumption buried that I don?t see in which a certain homogeneity of routers?seeded by DSL providers, for instance, and aided by Linksys?s dominance in the market??has to be in place to be sure that enough security holes exist, are unpatched, and can be exploited."

ManiacMan
ManiacMan

And I respond with "And it's my job as an IT professional to know your job so that I can secure your systems to ensure that tomorrow you still have a job?" Comments and ignorance like the one I stated above, which I hear 99.99% from those who've already been hacked or had their WiFi networks compromised, is why most hotspots are unsecure and why ignorance is plenty. People simply refuse to RTFM and educate themselves because they expect everything to just work out of the box as is. Is this the sign of human de-evolution where the public expects everything to be dumbed down for them?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I have read several articles about this and it seems in my opinion to be the results of a thesis paper that is more than somewhat inflammatory. The articles eventually seem to agree stating any kind of attack venue that could possibly accomplish this is not available at this time or will be available in the foreseeable future. The venue would also require a great deal more uniformity amongst the wireless devices being attacked as well. They also make heavy use of Wigle, an unsubstantiated hotspot map application, which I have found to be rather lacking in accuracy.

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