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In the past years, many types of attacks on the WEP protocol have been undertaken. Being successful with such an attack is an important milestone for anyone who wants to undertake penetration tests of wireless networks. In this article by Marco Alamanni, the author of Kali Linux Wireless Penetration Testing Essentials, we will take a look at the basics and the most common types of WEP protocols.

What is the WEP protocol?

The WEP protocol was introduced with the original 802.11 standard as a means to provide authentication and encryption to wireless LAN implementations.

It is based on the Rivest Cipher 4 (RC4) stream cypher with a Pre-shared Secret Key (PSK) of 40 or 104 bits, depending on the implementation. A 24-bit pseudorandom Initialization Vector (IV) is concatenated with the pre-shared key to generate the per-packet keystream used by RC4 for the actual encryption and decryption process. Thus, the resulting keystream could be 64 or 128 bits long.

In the encryption phase, the keystream is encrypted with the XOR cypher with the plaintext data to obtain the encrypted data. While in the decryption phase, the encrypted data is XOR-encrypted with the keystream to obtain the plaintext data. The encryption process is shown in the following diagram:

Attacks against WEP and why do they occur?

WEP is an insecure protocol and has been deprecated by the Wi-Fi Alliance. It suffers from various vulnerabilities related to the generation of the keystreams, to the use of IVs (initialization vectors), and to the length of the keys.

The IV is used to add randomness to the keystream, trying to avoid the reuse of the same keystream to encrypt different packets. This purpose has not been accomplished in the design of WEP because the IV is only 24 bits long (with 2^24 =16,777,216 possible values) and it is transmitted in clear text within each frame.

Thus, after a certain period of time (depending on the network traffic), the same IV and consequently the same keystream will be reused, allowing the attacker to collect the relative cypher texts and perform statistical attacks to recover plain texts and the key.

FMS attacks on WEP

The first well-known attack against WEP was the Fluhrer, Mantin, and Shamir (FMS) attack back in 2001. The FMS attack relies on the way WEP generates the keystreams and on the fact that it also uses weak IV to generate weak keystreams, making it possible for an attacker to collect a sufficient number of packets encrypted with these keys, to analyze them, and recover the key.

The number of IVs to be collected to complete the FMS attack is about 250,000 for 40-bit keys and 1,500,000 for 104-bit keys.

The FMS attack has been enhanced by Korek, improving its performance.

Andreas Klein found more correlations between the RC4 keystream and the key than the ones discovered by Fluhrer, Mantin, and Shamir, which can be used to crack the WEP key.

PTW attacks on WEP

In 2007, Pyshkin, Tews, and Weinmann (PTW) extended Andreas Klein’s research and improved the FMS attack, significantly reducing the number of IVs needed to successfully recover the WEP key.

Indeed, the PTW attack does not rely on weak IVs such as the FMS attack does and is very fast and effective. It is able to recover a 104-bit WEP key with a success probability of 50% using less than 40,000 frames and with a probability of 95% with 85,000 frames.

The PTW attack is the default method used by Aircrack-ng to crack WEP keys.

ARP Request replay attacks on WEP

Both FMS and PTW attacks need to collect quite a large number of frames to succeed and can be conducted passively, sniffing the wireless traffic on the same channel of the target AP and capturing frames. The problem is that, in normal conditions, we will have to spend quite a long time to passively collect all the necessary packets for the attacks, especially with the FMS attack.

To accelerate the process, the idea is to reinject frames in the network to generate traffic in response so that we can collect the necessary IVs more quickly. A type of frame that is suitable for this purpose is the ARP request because the AP broadcasts it, each time with a new IV. As we are not associated with the AP, if we send frames to it directly, they are discarded and a de-authentication frame is sent. Instead, we can capture ARP requests from associated clients and retransmit them to the AP.

This technique is called the ARP Request Replay attack and is also adopted by Aircrack-ng for the implementation of the PTW attack.

Find out more to become a master penetration tester by reading Kali Linux Wireless Penetration Testing Essentials


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