KRACKATTACK – the kraken of the Wi-Fi WPA2

Wi-Fi is everywhere, everything is on Wi-Fi now, phones, tablets, laptops, even home PCs, game consoles, smart devices (IoT), sensors etc. The security of WiFI is imperative, and has been entrusted to the WPA2 protocol. For that protocol, thus far all exploits have been connected to guessing the security key (hence reliant on customers having a weak key) or surrounding technologies (WPS for example) or older implementation such as the TKIP.

None of them were successful against a strong security-minded implementation.

Until today.

The attack – high-level breakdown of how the attack works and which devices are affected

An extremely interesting paper was released (16th October 2017) by its author, Mathy Vanhoef, this paper would rock the world of Wi-Fi as shines light on how to exploit the WPA2 protocol in such a way as to be able to decrypt the user data.

How does the attack work?

The attack does not allow the attacker to join the protected WiFi, nor does it break the encryption key. The attack is focused on the management plane in the WPA2, more precisely on 4-way handshake exchange during the client join.  It is achieved by manipulating and replaying handshake messages. By replaying message 3 of the handshake the attacker has the ability reinstall an already used nonce instead of a fresh key (a replay is allowed by the protocol because messages can be lost due to low signal etc). To guarantee security, an encryption key combination (key+nonce) should be used only once, then different versions of it (different nonce) should be used. Reusing the same key and nonce allows the attacker to derive the keystream, which combined with knowing a portion of the data that is encrypted and the already encrypted data, is enough to decrypt the rest of the data.

The attacker is positioning himself/herself in the middle of the handshake between the AP and the client by using a spoofed WiFI SSID with same name and making the client join his SSID by advising him to switch channels (hence the attack works best if the client has stronger signal to the attacker than to the legit AP). Only when this man-in-the-middle is completed can the attacker manipulate this handshake (as described above) and starting decrypting what the user sends.

Who is affected? – Practically every Wi-Fi enabled client, as again this is an attack towards the WPA2 protocol itself which all vendors needed to follow in their implementations, so this is not a scenario when the exploit is possible due to bugs in the code.

Android and Linux are the ones that are easier to compromise to the fact they mostly (41% of the devices out there) use wpa supplicant version 2.4. With them the code developers have followed a WPA2 standard advice to delete the nonce after its use so when the replay of message 3 happens the nonce that is used is comprised only from zeros making it trivial to decrypt. Further finding from the same author describe the possibility for that attack to work (with few changes) also towards wpa_supplicant 2.6 and iOS and freeBSD clients. This latest update brings the percentage of vulnerable supplicant to a very high number (as the author states, if you have a phone it is most likely vulnerable).

Impact:

We are sending out massive amount of sensitive data using Wi-Fi these days. Username and passwords are just the start, but credit card information, personal IDs, emails, private pictures etc. I guess nobody wants that data to be shared and read by others. Furthermore, the top choice device for many of these, is your smart phone, which in fact is the most vulnerable type of client device (see Conclusions chapter below).

So, what is next?

Do we go back to WPA or WEP or wait for WPA3?

Answer is no, WPA is also vulnerable and WEP is even less secure, WPA2 can be amended (both as a protocol and as implementation in software) and will continue to be used. It is recommended that WPA2 with CCMP is used, as TKIP and GCMP are even easier to break and attackers can not only listen to data but also manipulate data so malware can be injected into the traffic.

How to protect ourselves

Only the software update can mitigate this attack. Keep a close eye to the vendor announcement and patch as soon as they release the security patch for this exploit. Some of the patches may be silently releases and installed on your devices but please make sure you have them.

Actions like changing your PSK password and such do not make any difference (remember, the attack does not reveal this password nor lets the attacker join your network).

Deploy additional levels of encryption that is independent of the WPA2, such as SSL/TLS or IPSec. In the example on the krackattack page, they were only able to read the data from the web site after striping the SSL from it which in fact is a misconfiguration on the website itself.

Conclusion

The current threat is obviously for the end devices, not the infrastructure devices (APs etc). I expect that Microsoft, Apple and other commercial major OS vendors will react very fast and will silently patch (if they have not done so already). That would be sufficient for laptops and PCs with enabled Wi-Fi. A bigger problem will be for smart phone users, every Android vendor (Samsung, HTC etc) dictates its patching schedules, so I am not expecting a fast reaction from them. Apple runs its own devices so I expect faster reaction.

Having put the spotlight on client devices and not infrastructure, it is mandatory to mention that this new type of attack and the sure-to-come spin-offs from it will lead to new attacks towards infrastructure devices.

Cisco has numerous products that are found vulnerable and still investigating many more for that possibility.

Related materials:

https://www.krackattacks.com/

https://tools.cisco.com/security/center/content/CiscoSecurityAdvisory/cisco-sa-20171016-wpa

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