Posts Tagged ‘wifi’

4223373030_7ca4c19a61_oEver told someone a secret only to find out later that they blabbed it to everyone they knew? Irritating, huh?

Ever let someone on your home wireless network only to find out later that all their friends now have access as well whenever they get within range? Not yet, but you will … 

… unless Microsoft rethinks a new feature they included in the latest and greatest release of their flagship OS — Windows 10. wi_fi_sense-618x336

Generally speaking, the early reviews for Win 10 have been mostly positive. However, there’s one addition that might sound like a good idea on the surface, but once you think it through (which it seems the designers didn’t do), you quickly realize it’s a security nightmare.

The feature is called Wi-Fi Sense and it’s intended to help you overcome the complexity of letting visitors onto your home wireless network by automating the process of sharing the complex, hard to remember, even harder to enter encryption key that grants access. (You do have a complex, hard to remember, even harder to remember key protecting your Wi-Fi, right? Please say “yes.” Good.)

The problem is that it breaks the bounds of any sort of reasonable security standard by oversharing that key with all sorts of people you may not even know — many of whom you would never allow on your private home network.

Graham Cluely has a great description of the problem on his blog that I highly recommend that you read so you will have the details in a clear, understandable way that I couldn’t improve on (so I won’t even try).

Before you dismiss this as something you don’t have to care about because you don’t use Windows 10, think again. All it takes is for you to share your Wi-Fi key with any Windows 10 user who happens to have this (over)sharing feature turned on for them to automatically pass it along to all their friends even without their knowledge.

That’s right. You and all your family could run nothing but Macs or Linux but it only takes one visitor running Win 10 that you give the Wi-Fi key to before you unknowingly have shared this with all of your visitor’s Skype contacts, Outlook contacts, Hotmail contacts and Facebook friends. 

I’m not ready to go so far as to say “friends don’t let friends use Win 10,” but I will say you should think twice — make it three times — before you share you home Wi-Fi with them.

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Windows users learned (the hard way) a long time ago that their PC could be infected with viruses, Trojan horses, worms and the like without their knowledge. Anti-virus vendors have made a mint off of capitalizing on the concerns that grew from that basic fact. Eventually, Microsoft decided it was in their best interest to make available free security tools that could help limit the threat and mitigate some of the PR hits their brand kept taking with each new outbreak of malware.

As discussed in this blog before, there is nothing about Linux, UNIX or OS X that makes those platforms inherently immune to virus attacks either, although, the sheer number of known malware instantiations is lower. Mobile devices, which are, after all, nothing more than miniaturized computers that also happen to have built-in cameras, MP3 players and telephony features are vulnerable as well. In fact, the first mobile malware was first spotted 10 years ago, if you can believe it. Clearly, none of this is a new problem.

Well, guess what? You know that WiFi access point you installed in your home a few years back or the ones you never see but freely use at the local coffee shop could be infected as well? How about the possibility that the wireless in your doctor’s office waiting area is as sick as the patients sitting next to you?

Yep, malware for WiFi is the latest unfortunate turn of the technological crank and, once again, we shouldn’t be surprised. Routers and access points are, after all, just special purpose computers and, in most cases, ones that have never been patched since the day they were installed.

One recent study found that:

Using the top 50 selling home routers for sale on Amazon, the firm detected software vulnerabilities in three quarters with a third of these having publically documented flaws open for any attacker to exploit. Common problems included vulnerable management interfaces and dodgy authentication.

So that’s 75% of the most popular devices are vulnerable. Great. But the hits just keep coming

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have shown for the first time that WiFi networks can be infected with a virus that can move through densely populated areas as efficiently as the common cold spreads between humans. 

The team designed and simulated an attack by a , called “Chameleon”, and found that not only could it spread quickly between homes and businesses, but it was able to avoid detection and identify the points at which WiFi access is least protected by encryption and passwords.

So let’s review…

  • WiFi access points can be attacked
  • Most have never been patched
  • Most are vulnerable to exploitation
  • Some could be attacked by malware that spreads from access point to access point

I don’t know that WiFi access point anti-virus tools are waiting just around the corner.  However, I do know that it would be a good idea to take another look at the access points you can control and review the security settings and update the firmware. Don’t say I didn’t warn you …

It’s been an interesting year in the world of IT security and privacy. It turns out that all the world’s spy agencies are, in fact, spying on each other. Shocking, right? OK, so they aren’t just spying on other spies but probably you and me as well to one degree or another. How much do they know? How long have they known it? How is the information being used?

I think the best answer is a quote from Tom Waits that predates this latest controversy but is quite apropos, nevertheless …

“The folks who know the truth aren’t talking. The ones who don’t have a clue, you can’t shut them up.”

In other words, don’t believe everything you hear because the people making the most noise tend to be those with the least actual information. At the risk of falling into that latter category I will suggest that the organizations that might know more about you than the TLAs (Three Letter Agencies) are the ones that we voluntarily give up our personal information to in exchange for free email, social media, cloud storage, navigation services, etc.

Along those lines comes a revelation that sits squarely between the uncomfortable intersection of security and convenience — your wifi passwords. If, for instance, you have an Android device you probably connect it to a wireless LAN on occasion. Unless you enjoy typing in long, complicated passwords on tiny keyboards, you probably opted to let the OS store this info for future use. For further convenience you probably allow Google to back up the settings on your phone since this makes recovery far easier when you get a new one. All very nice but …

This means that Google is storing all those “secret” passwords somewhere in their cloud. Who has access? How well is it secured? How could this information be used/abused? Now the heartburn begins…

I have no idea whether Google does a great job or a poor job of securing this data just like I have no idea how well credit card numbers and other sensitive information is being secured on systems for major retailers but I do know that at least in the case of the latter there have been some major breaches. We might not know about these failures were it not for legislation that requires public disclosure of such incidents and I suspect we wouldn’t necessarily know about similar compromises in social media, email and other Internet-based services.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that a leak of wifi passwords would only affect a few home networks or that if you choose not to have your info backed up by Google or because you use an iPhone or no phone at all that you will be safe because all it takes is for one user — any user — of any wifi network you use to have saved and backed up this info for it to make everyone on that network at risk. 

Just another reason why you should make sure that you use a good VPN or SSL connection, even when you think you are on a secure wifi network…