Things You Should Know : Wireless Hacking Basics

Things You Should Know : Wireless Hacking Basics

This is the first post in a new series of posts that don’t involve any real hacking (and hence don’t require that you have Kali installed on your system), but instead explain concepts in an interesting way (at least I hope so). If you have tried getting started into the world of hacking, but failed despite your best attempts, then this series will get you in a position where you’ll find it easier to understand any tutorials you read in the future(on this site or any other). Note that I might use some technical jargon at some places, but would usually try to use laymen terms. Also, this guide is an oversimplification and hence factual precision is not it’s strong suit, ease of understanding is.


You should know-


You will know –

  • What are the different flavors of wireless networks you’ll encounter and how difficult it is to hack each of them.
  • What are hidden networks, and whether they offer a real challenge to a hacker.
  • You’ll have a very rough idea how each of the various ‘flavors’ of wireless networks is actually hacked.

(The last point would be covered in details in the next post)

Wireless Security Levels

Below is a (bad but hopefully helpful) analogue I’m using to explain various possible security implementations that a wireless network may have.
Suppose you are the owner of a club. There can be many possible scenarios as far as entry to the club is concerned :-

  • Open Entry

    Open networks- They don’t require passwords to
    connect to the wireless router (access point).
    1. Open entry and unrestricted usage – Anyone can walk right in. They have unrestricted access to the dance floor, free beer, etc.
      is open network. This is only used in public places (restaurants, etc.)
      which offer free Internet access to it’s users (WiFi hotspots) . It’s
      fairly uncommon to find such networks.
    2.  Open entry but
      restricted usage
      – Anyone can walk right in, but have to pay for drinks.
      For the router’s security purposes, this is also an open network.
      However, connecting to the wireless router (entering the club) doesn’t
      guarantee you unlimited access to the internet. There is another layer
      of authentication. These are seen in public places (airports,
      restaurants, fast food joints, shopping malls) where they let you
      connect to the wireless network without any password, but after that you
      have an additional layer between you and the internet. This layer
      usually restricts your ability to access the internet (either by
      bandwidth or by time). This layer can be used to charge you for the
      amount of data you use.

 The point to note in the discussion above is that wireless hacking usually refers to cracking the router’s password. The additional layer which might be present between you and the internet after you login is something you’ll have to deal with separately, and is not covered under wireless hacking. So, from wifi hacking perspective, both the networks above are the same, “open”, and do not require any hacking.

  • Stupidly Guarded Entry (WEP)

    ISPs may require users to login to
    their accounts to access the internet.
    1. Password at door and unrestricted access – The member of the club pay a
      certain amount every month, and get access to free drinks. They have to
      say the password at the shady looking entrance to the club.
      Unfortunately, it’s quite easy for anyone to overhear the password and
      get in. This is WEP protected network. For a person who has Kali Linux
      installed on his machine, hacking this kind of wireless network is a
      matter of minutes. These are easy targets. However, nowadays it’s fairly
      uncommon to find WEP protected networks, because of the ease with which
      they can be hacked into. WPA and WPA-2 are more common. 
    2. Password at door but restricted access – Only members can enter, but they still have to pay for their drinks. This is the case when the network has password and an additional layer to get access to the internet. This is common in two cases – 
    3. Login%2Bto%2Bcollege%2Bnetwork
      Colleges often allocate student’s IDs and
      passwords using which students can access
      Internet facilities offered by the institute.
      1. ISP requires login – Many ISP’s require users to login to their account to access the internet. Often logging in provides an interface which lets the users see their bandwidth usage, details of their network plan, etc.
      2. Colleges/ Schools/ Offices – Many institutes provide users accounts which they use to access the institutes’ network.  

Again, from the wireless hacking perspective,both the networks above are “WEP protected”, and are rather simple to hack into.

  • Well Guarded Entry

    As far as the bifurcation into whether or not another layer of authentication is present once you have the wireless network password is concerned, WEP and WPA cases are the same. The only difference is that the college wireless routers have WPA instead of WEP (as a matter of fact, the two images in the section above are from my home network tikona and my college network, and both are WPA protected. Of course the login screen would be no different if the router was configured to be WEP protected, as these are two independent authentication steps, and so I included those images in WEP section). Thus, this doesn’t merit further discussion. However, there’s another subcategory in this that we will discuss.

    1. Fingerprint and retinal scan for entry – The entry to this club is secure enough for most purposes. Getting past this level of security takes a lot of time and efforts. Theoretically, if you’re willing to do what it takes, you may still get it. But a heist (if I may call it that) of this magnitude will take a lot of planning, and even then, a lot depends on sheer luck. This is WPA secure network. The only way to crack this network with dictionary or bruteforce attacks. Bruteforce attacks may take forever (literally) depending on the length of the password, and dictionary attacks too will take days/weeks depending on size of dictionary, and still may fail (if the password is not in the dictionary). [More on this later]. So if you want to crack the password of a WPA network… get a new hobby.
    2. Fingerprint and retinal scan for entry, and a card which you can quickly swipe to avoid standing in a queue since the aforementioned scans take some time – By introducing this card the club created an alternate path for entry. While this saves time for the legitimate users, the card can be stolen. While it’s not as easy as overhearing the password (WEP), or walking right in (open), pickpocketing a member is much easier than murder and mutilation (you really want to enter that club if you’re going that far). This is WPA with WPS enabled. WPS has a vulnerability which allows a hacker to get a password in around 3 hours (can be more sometimes, up to 10-12 hours, but that figure is nothing compared to WPA). Just like WEP, WPS is now a well known weak point and new routers have either disabled WEP or added some measures (like rate limiting) which make it really hard to, well, pickpocket the members. 
  • Bonus : Hidden entry

    Any of the above clubs could have a secret entrance. Sounds cool, right? This is somewhat similar to what we call “Security Through Obscurity”. How we you get in if you don’t know where the club’s entrance is? Well, while you don’t know where the club entrance is, you know where the club is. You have two options-

    1. Passive method – You go to the roof of a nearby building, take your binoculars out, and try to find out how people enter the building. In wireless terms, you wait till a client connects to the network. This may take a lot of time, but it’s relatively safer from a forensic viewpoint (by not doing anything, just watching patiently, you ensure that you don’t leave any clues behind which may later be used to catch you).
    2. Active method – You cut off the electric/water supply to the building, or maybe somehow trigger the fire alarm. One way or the other, force the members to get out of the club. Once they find out that everything is fine, they’ll swarm back in. You will know where the gate is. In wireless terms, you can de-authenticate the clients (you’ll be doing this often, whether you’re hacking a WEP network, or getting a WPA handshake [again, more on this later]). Off course, this method results in you leaving behind some traces, but at least you don’t have to wait for hours.

    The analogue of hidden entry clubs are hidden networks. As long as the network has clients, it’s quite easy to find out the name of the network (SSID to be precise, setting the network to hidden basically stops the access point from revealing it’s SSID). However, when a client connects to the network, beacon frames (date packets) with SSID (in clear-text, i.e. unencrypted) are transmitted, which you can capture and get the SSID of the network. So, hidden networks don’t really offer much protection to a network, and a WEP protected hidden network just means that instead of 10 mins it will take 15 mins to get the password. For a WPA network, making the SSID hidden doesn’t really do a lot since WPA networks are practically uncrackable and a person who has the time and processing power to get past WPA encryption won’t be stopped by the hidden SSID.


    • There can be additional authentication steps (logins) or other barriers between you and internet even after you get access to the router. However, this is an entirely separate problem and not too relevant to the discussion of wireless hacking. Still it’s something you must be aware of.
    • Wireless hotspots or open networks don’t have any encryption. They can be accessed by anyone. Also, the data transmitted by you is not encrypted and can be read by anyone in the vicinity. Anything which you send to the destination server in plain-text (say, to google), will be transmitted from your machine to the wireless router in plain-text. Anyone in the vicinity can easily read it using Wireshark or any other similar tool. Of course, sensitive data is rarely sent in plain-text, so don’t sit around wireless hotspots hoping to get someone’s FB login credentials. However, lack of encryption in open networks should be considered seriously. As far as wireless hacking is concerned, not a lot to do here (other than sniffing at unencrypted data in the air).
    • WEP – This is where most of the stuff happens. Countless vulnerabilities, countless attacks, countless research papers listing the issues, countless tools to get the passwords. It doesn’t take too much effort to learn how to hack these. If you are familiar with linux, then it takes practically no efforts at all. Just some terminal commands, and you’re done (with wifite you don’t even have to bother with that).
    • WPA – Don’t want to mess with this guy. Theoretically there’s a way to get in. Practically it will take forever. Dictionary attacks and bruteforce are the methods to get in. Will cover all this in the advanced version of this guide. PS: When I say WPA, I refer to both WPA and WPA-2. For the sake of this post, they are the same (actually they have a lot of difference, the common thing is neither is an easy target for hackers).
    • WPA with WPS – Tough guy with a weak spot. Hit him where it hurts and the ‘it takes forever to get in’ becomes a matter of hours. Not as easy as WEP, but still do-able. Unfortunately, you might encounter a guy who has a weak spot but has started learning his lessons and guards that spot properly (WPS but with rate-limiting or some other security measure).

I hope you now have a general idea about the various flavors of wireless security. I have a few advanced guides in mind too, which will touch the cryptographic specifics about these ‘flavors’, the vulnerabilities, and their exploits. As far as the practical hacking process is concerned, there are plenty of tutorials here on this website and elsewhere on the internet regarding that, so I am not covering that again. I hope that this time when you read a guide you are aware of what’s going on, and don’t end up trying an attack that works on WEP targets on a WPA network.

The next guide is here-
Things You Should Kow : Wireless Hacking Intermediate


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