Security Corner

Nov 14 2008   3:00AM GMT

WPA-TKIP Now Vulnerable to Attack

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

In my How to Secure Your Computer series of articles, I issued Maxim #13, “WiFi Security–The Only Way is WPA“. However, TKIP–which is one of the protocols used under the WPA certification standard–is now vulnerable to attack, so I feel it prudent to modify my stance a bit and shed a little light on the subject. Certain media reports would have you believe that WPA has been cracked; this isn’t the case. (See “WPA Not Cracked, But Still Vulnerable.”) Steve Gibson’s latest episode (#170) of Security Now! explains in great detail the TKIP hack and why it’s much to worry about–at least, not yet.

Under the WPA/WPA2 standards, a wireless access point or router can use either TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) or AES-CCMP (Advanced Encryption Standard, Counter Mode/CBC MAC Protocol). TKIP is an enhancement of WEP that utilizes the RC4 stream cipher with 128-bit keys for encryption and 64-bit keys for authentication; CCMP provides much stronger protection because it uses AES (Rinjdael) encryption.

Two German researchers, Martin Beck and Erik Tews, recently found a way to crack TKIP. They use what is called a chopchop attack, which attempts to decrypt packets byte by byte. You can read all about it in their white paper, “Practical attacks against WEP and WPA” so I won’t go into the details here.

While there doesn’t appear to be much an attacker can do at this point, the attack is a harbinger of things to come and now would be a good time to log into your wireless router and see what’s up. I discovered that mine doesn’t support AES-CCMP, only TKIP, so I need to upgrade the firmware. I recommend that everyone do one of the following: 1. Switch your current WPA configuration to AES-CCMP if it’s supported; 2. Upgrade the firmware in your router so it supports WPA2 with AES-CCMP;  3. If neither of those is possible, or, heaven forbid, your router only supports WEP, replace it with one that’s WPA2 compliant and use AES-CCMP.

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