Wi-Fi is a highly successful protocol thanks to its handshake mechanism. This mechanism allows devices to find one another and handle credentials in a 4-way process. Unfortunately, the handshake mechanism is also the largest Wi-Fi exploit, enabling cybercriminals to launch many different Wi-Fi attacks. Your Wi-Fi router broadcasts some security information that attackers can exploit to gain access to your network with little technical expertise and in a whole host of ways.
In this article, you’ll learn about the Wi-Fi attacks your business can face and how to prevent bad actors from accessing your data. Let’s start by learning what a Wi-Fi attack is and how cybercriminals exploit the handshake mechanism!
What Is a Wi-Fi Attack?
Wi-Fi controls the process of securing a connection between devices and transmitting data to each other. For the wireless connection process to work, both devices need to know how to connect, receive, and terminate a connection. This is where the Wi-Fi protocol comes in. Wi-Fi enables you to send data with both the established HTTP and HTTPS data packet protocols to devices secured with a 4-way handshake connection.
In addition, a series of validation and verification processes take place between devices before you can send or receive data. Each step is a series of processes to verify that the correct credentials are present to join the Wi-Fi network. The challenge with this method is that your router talks with any device and provides some credentials in the process. Attackers can use this information to progress the 4-way handshake process until they have access to your network.
To this end, Wi-Fi is an excellent way for cybercriminals to steal your credentials or destroy your business. In short, you’re at risk from Wi-Fi attacks due to the underlying weakness of Wi-Fi handshakes. Next, let’s get into some of the Wi-Fi attacks your business can face and how you can protect yourself against them!
9 Different Types of Wi-Fi Attacks
Wi-Fi attacks are risks you can fall victim to because of the underlying weaknesses in the Wi-Fi protocol. Some types of Wi-Fi attacks you should be aware of are:
1. Packet Sniffing
Packet sniffing is where a cybercriminal intercepts and routes your data packets through their hardware. In this attack, you won’t know someone else is accessing your data. Cybercriminals create a fake router that mimics the your router’s “hello handshake” outside your perimeter. Thus, your data goes to the attacker’s antenna before being routed to its destination.
Once Wi-Fi attackers sniff your packets, they can use them to find user credentials. They can then use these credentials to access your network and conduct a Wi-Fi attack or inspect your unencrypted data. To this end, packet sniffing is often the first part of many attacks.
Wi-Fi attackers must first find the encryption key to decrypt your encrypted data. Most attackers will use a pass-the-hash strategy to achieve this. A strong password makes this a time-consuming process.
To protect your wireless network against packet sniffing, you should invest in encryption solutions like a VPN. Attackers won’t be able to decrypt your data unless they have specific research-level expertise in decrypting data packets. Also, larger encryption bit numbers are harder for attackers to decrypt. Currently, 256-bit encryption is a good de-facto standard to follow, and even military agencies consider it safe.
2. Rogue Access Point
Rogue access points (RAPs) are network access points added to the network without the administrator’s consent. For instance, you can find well-intentioned employees who add a wireless router to help connect to the network. Most will forget to configure them to be closed, making it easy for attackers to gain access to the network. Alternatively, if bad actors add the RAP, they’ll be able to sample data packets going through the device. RAPs also expose the entire network to other attacks like Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, packet sniffing, etc.
Thus, you need IT specialists with Wi-Fi monitoring devices to scan the business premises for RAPs. Staff should also know they must always get administrators to implement network-related activities. In addition, IT specialists should inform staff and visitors to only use their network connection by clearly stating what the network is.
Jamming is the process of increasing the noise-to-signal ratio, which stops transmissions from yielding a coherent signal. In essence, jamming attacks aim to disrupt operations for a finite time. To carry out this attack, the attacker needs to get the transmission frequency of the target Wi-Fi device.
Wi-Fi attackers need equipment nearby to implement the attack, which is a big challenge. Even with industrial transmitters, a cybercriminal can increase the distance between you and the jamming device to a few miles at best. In addition, transmitters are costly and easily identified. Thus, cybercriminals use multiple sources for the jamming signal in this attack.
To combat jamming, you can install and use proprietary software to separate your transmission from the cybercriminal’s signal. This software will also send you push notifications if an attack occurs.
4. Evil Twinning
Evil twinning is a Wi-Fi attack where the bad actor creates a network that looks like your own. From this, they can access the information you send, like login details and credit card information. Moreover, evil twinning is an effective attack in coffee shops, airports, and other public spaces where users don’t know the difference between networks. Attackers often use hardware hidden in bags to create these Wi-Fi attacks.
To combat this attack, companies can implement passive scanning or search techniques to help secure premises. That said, the best strategy is telling users the name of the network and warning them of how evil twin attacks work. Alternatively, you could remove Wi-Fi for all public users. However, this might not stop attackers from creating a Wi-Fi network and fooling guests anyway.
5. Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Wi-Fi Attacks
One of the easiest Wi-Fi attacks to conduct is a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack. In a MITM attack, sometimes called DNS spoofing, a cybercriminal puts a Wi-Fi router between the user and the genuine router. As a result, your traffic reroutes to the cybercriminal’s router, where they packet sniff to steal your sent information. The cybercriminal then passes on the data packets to the genuine router.
To stop this Wi-Fi attack from working, you should use a VPN and encrypt all the data on your network. This also includes mobile device automatic updates. To this end, look for routers that make all connections encrypted as standard.
6. MAC Spoofing
In a Media Access Control (MAC) spoofing attack, cybercriminals copy the factory-assigned MAC address of a device to their device. As a result, they’re able to pose as genuine users. MAC addresses are often hard coded on a chip mounted on a network interface card (NIC). That said, you can get software that allows you to change some MAC addresses.
Apart from accessing your network, some bad actors use this attack to continually get free Wi-Fi on flights that offer a limited trial of their Wi-Fi service. For MAC spoofing to be successful, the cybercriminal needs a MAC address from a piece of network hardware. Consequently, you should hide all network hardware away from visitors or keep a watchful eye on them.
In a warshipping attack, attackers send a hidden miniature computer to a target site. The device acts as a beachhead and often uses GPS to tell an attacker that the package has arrived, allowing them to implement the attack. Additionally, attackers conduct Wi-Fi scans looking for weaknesses and try to gain access to the network. They often hide the devices in products to ensure the attack is successful.
In this method, attackers must work fast to ensure their device’s battery doesn’t die before the Wi-Fi attack is complete. Thus, to reduce your risk of a warshipping attack, check all packages promptly for suspicious electronics.
This attack involves driving around sites looking for a vulnerable Wi-Fi target to launch an attack against. Cybercriminals often use laptops or mobile devices combined with aerials to increase their scanning range. The attack generally requires a two-person team. One person drives, and the other conducts the Wi-Fi attack.
If a bad actor can get close enough to your transmitter, their equipment can be as small as a handheld device. Some cybercriminals take it even further by mounting hardware on their pets and sending them out into the neighborhood.
The GPS tells the cyberattacker the location of a vulnerable Wi-Fi network as the hardware sniffs for credentials. To reduce your risk of becoming an easy target, move to a more secure Wi-Fi protocol and continue to change your Wi-Fi credentials periodically. You can also decide whether to publicly broadcast your Wi-Fi network or not, which can hide it to some degree from bad actors.
9. IV Attack
An initialization vector (IV) attack is where the Wi-Fi network sends out the information needed to create an encrypted connection. Bad actors intercept this information and create their own. Doing this allows them to decrypt whatever data packets you send using the connection. That said, this process needs to occur repeatedly for the attack to succeed. Thus, IV attacks aren’t the most efficient.
An IV attack is almost impossible to mitigate and is popular for implementing attacks like ransomware-as-a-service attacks. That’s because cybercriminals can conduct the attack at a distance from a business. In addition, an IV attack requires very little preparation prior. To stop IV Wi-Fi attacks, move from WEP’s 12-bit encryption to WPA2 or WPA3. These use a larger 42-bit encryption which vastly increases the challenge of breaking the encryption.
Now that you know about different types of Wi-Fi attacks, it’s time to discover how you can protect your business against them.
How to Protect Your Wi-Fi Network
The inevitable truth is that you might not be able to protect your Wi-Fi network from a determined attacker. That said, you can always make the process more challenging!
Use the latest Wi-Fi protocol to better hide your Wi-Fi credentials. For example, it’s easier to compromise a 12-bit WEP network compared to a 42-bit WPA2 or WPA3 system. Administrators looking to the latest protocol can help stop bad actors still developing their skills. In addition, use long, complex Wi-Fi credentials to ensure attackers never use a dictionary brute force attack.
You should also use strong encryption passwords for Wi-Fi and user credentials. Also, ensure every connection is encrypted. Thus, you should invest in routers that always encrypt data, including automated mobile updates. This helps stop automatic connections by mobile devices during automatic updates where the user lacks a chance to establish a VPN connection.
Moreover, segregate your Wi-Fi networks from core business areas and get users to use a hardwired connection where possible. This doesn’t stop Wi-Fi attacks but reduces the risk of damage during attacks on the business.
Finally, you should upskill end users on cyberattacks and cybersecurity best practices like not picking up a USB they found and adding it to a networked computer.
The Wi-Fi protocol’s handshake mechanism exposes you to many attacks. Wi-Fi attacks differ in implementation and damage your business. These attacks include packet sniffing, RAPs, jamming, and more, which I discussed in the article above.
That said, you can still try to protect your business against these attacks. To achieve excellent security, don’t use Wi-Fi in business areas. However, if you have to, segregate Wi-Fi from the core business and use the latest Wi-Fi protocol. These strategies will make it challenging for bad actors to access your network.
Where possible, add checkpoints that passively scan visitors for hardware. In addition, inspect packages that arrive at your site immediately for warships. Your security should also log and report suspicious vehicles near the business. Use VPN encryption for every connection across the company and to external endpoints. As another safety measure, periodically scan for foreign Wi-Fi devices in or around the company.
All these measures help reduce the risks of these attacks on your business.
Do you have more questions on Wi-Fi attacks? Check out our FAQ and Resources section below!
What is cyber threat intelligence (CTI)?
Cyber threat intelligence assesses the attacker to help predict their cyberattack methods before they use them. In short, if you work in highly integrated supply chains like the automotive or energy sector, knowing your attacker’s playbook helps secure your business.
What is OPSec?
Operational security (OPSec) manages a business’s risk against cyberattacks by implementing appropriate security strategies. In short, OPSec is about creating pragmatic and financially viable security strategies and enforcing them throughout the company.
Should I use multi-factor authentication with my VPN solution?
A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts data. However, it doesn’t confirm if the user connecting remotely to a site is the same person. Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to validate the remote worker. Ideally, use an MFA key with no internet connectivity to make spoofing difficult for attackers.
What is a firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS)?
As technology has progressed, mobile devices and occasional use devices need firewall protection. This pushes the overall cost to companies much higher than a firewall that governs data entering the device from a cloud solution. FWaaS provides this and often charges based on data screened by the firewall rather than by the device.
What is a zero-trust Wi-Fi segment?
Most companies need to give visitors a Wi-Fi access point to help them conduct business on-premise. Thus, businesses create a Wi-Fi area independent of the rest of the company. Here, the company works on a zero-trust policy to stop bad actors from using it as a beachhead to unauthorized locations in the business.
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