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Users Eye New 802.11 Security Issues

Dan Jones
LR Mobile News Analysis
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor

Some of the underlying 802.11 security issues revealed at the recent Black Hat security show have led some experts to recommend that users turn off their WiFi radios when not in use.

A presentation by Jon Ellch and David Maynor showed a video demo of a hack using the underlying wireless drivers to quickly access a Mac computer, although the attack also works against Windows machines. (See Intel's Centrino Vulnerability.) The two researchers demonstrated how wireless drivers could establish a connection and seize control of a laptop, even if the laptop was not associated with any WiFi access point. The two-step demonstration forced the victim's notebook to establish a connection to the hacker's PC, and seized control of the laptop once the connection was established.

This exploit could potentially allow attackers to commandeer anyone's laptop -- as long as a wireless capability is installed and enabled. The demo has renewed enterprise concerns about the security fitness of 802.11 once again.

Roger Cass, CTO at healthcare firm MediSync, says he will take a number of measures to protect against the threat. "Our first step would be to caution our laptop users to leave their radios off unless they are actively using them," he tells Unstrung. "Next would be to avoid using hotspots unless necessary."

"Lastly, we would have to wait for driver fixes from the radio manufacturers. Since this was a hot topic, I imagine some patches will be forthcoming. The key is to find the updated drivers and install them," Cass said.

Third-party WiFi security companies such as AirTight Networks Inc. and Network Chemistry Inc. have already piped up to say that their products protect against the hack.

The key danger, however, is likely to be a lack of user awareness about when their WiFi radio is actually enabled. Often, many users simply do not realize that they are connected via WiFi -- either in the office or in a public space. (See Five WiFi VOIP Security Issues .)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:44:53 AM
re: Users Eye New 802.11 Security Issues
It should be noted that these vulnerabilities are caused by poor coding and/or testing in the drivers for wireless cards from Intel and Apple. To put the risk into perspective, at DEFCON, over 60 percent of the wireless devices detected were from these two vendors. However, these types of issues have a much broader reach and likely affect more than just Intel and Apple.

These latest examples of vulnerabilities in wireless cards reflect a growing trend of vulnerabilities being found in the wireless client packages and drivers. Prior examples have been recognized and documented by the Wireless Vulnerabilities and Exploits project ( Earlier this year an integer overflow was discovered in FreeBSDGÇÖs 802.11 stack (WVE-2006-0004). Additionally, both Linux and Windows have driver and other low-level disclosure vulnerabilities that can reveal the contents of a systemGÇÖs memory to remote attackers (WVE-2006-0005, WVE-2006-0047, and WVE-2006-0043).
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