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The Evolution of Wi-Fi Encryption and Cracking

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By: SLWelty

July 26, 2019

Since 1997, wireless encryption has been a widespread part of wireless access points. These encryption methods allow users to secure their networks with passwords and randomly generated keys. This section explores the history of Wi-Fi encryption, the development of Wi-Fi cracking methods, and how an organization can secure their access points from cracking methods.Wireless networks have quickly become a common, everyday occurrence in the lives of millions across the globe. As the number of wireless networks increases, so does the demand for secure access point encryption. While some access points are public and open to connection with any user, most routers are equipped with encryption by default. While the underlying technology may be complex, user interactions with encrypted access points are simply a matter of inputting a password. This section will explore the evolution of Wi-Fi encryption, hacking methods that developed alongside it, and how to secure an access point from these attacks.The original standard for encrypting wireless access points is known as Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP for short. This technology was originally developed in 1997 in order to secure wireless access points from unwanted connections. The system relies on long, complex, and seemingly random strings of characters that the user must reference or memorize to secure their connection. However, once connected, the data is stored and does not need to be re-entered. This was the standard for wireless access point security until WPA was developed and replaced WEP in 2003. Wi-Fi Protected Access, or WPA was developed to replace WEP and eliminate any prior security flaws. This encryption supported user-inputted passwords that could be easily created and remembered. However, further exploits led the development of WPA2. Also known as 802.11i, WPA2 was also built as a replacement for WEP encryption. Most recently, WPA3 was deployed in 2018 in order to correct security flaws concerning passwords that are easily cracked.In 2001, WEP security was compromised when an analysis of WEP encryption revealed major security flaws. Due to the nature of WEP key generation, sometimes the same key is generated twice. Since attackers understand the nature of WEP key generation, they are able to read traffic on the network and accurately guess the network password. There is enough of a probability that the network key will repeat itself that hackers can discover the network key in a matter of minutes. On the user end, WEP cracking tools are built into operating systems like Kali Linux and are intuitive to use along with a manual or instructional material. Cracking WPA, WPA2, and WPA3 is a more difficult task. However, tools are built into cybersecurity operating systems to crack these pre-shared keys as well.Securing your network against unauthorized connections is not as difficult as it may seem. One of the most basic methods, SSID hiding, involves simply disabling the access point from broadcasting a name to nearby devices. These settings can be found by accessing the router’s control panel. Another method is to limit access to a list of pre-verified MAC addresses. This prevents any unknown user from connecting to the network. Of course, these are your best options if your network does not have encryption in the first place. WPA2 encryption is the standard for many new network devices, and it is quickly being replaced by WPA3. Good encryption will protect a wireless access point from most unauthorized connections, while SSID hiding and MAC filtering will further ensure protection from unauthorized users.
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