Vulnerabilities / Threats
11/21/2016
03:30 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

WindTalker Attack Finds New Vulnerabilities in Wi-Fi Networks

White hat researchers show how hackers read keystrokes to potentially compromise cellphone and tablet users on public Wi-Fi and home networks.

A group of seven computer scientists have discovered WindTalker, a vulnerability in Wi-Fi networks that lets hackers potentially read keystrokes based on the finger position of a cellphone or tablet user.

The vulnerability was found by five researchers based at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China, while the other two are affiliated with the University of Massachusetts at Boston and University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla.

Xiaohui Liang, the researcher based at UMass Boston, says by exploiting this vulnerability hackers can know when the user inputs PIN numbers. The researchers recently presented their findings in a paper to the ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Vienna, Austria.

Paul Ducklin, a senior technologist at Sophos who wrote a blog about WindTalker, says the research is important in that it points at a previously undiscovered vulnerability.

“This research just underscores that security is a journey,” Ducklin says. “While this couldn’t have been possible five years ago, with the processing power now available, it is today. And while manufacturers don’t have to run out quickly to correct WindTalker, it does put them on notice that it could be a problem in the years to come.”

In his blog, Ducklin explains that the researchers used specially modified firmware downloaded into a single Wi-Fi network card to create an access point that could keep track of minute variations in the underlying communication signal, and correlate those changes with the cell phone user’s typing.

Ducklin says once the researchers detected the Wi-Fi flaw, they also realized that hackers can set up rogue networks in situations where users sign on automatically. This can be on a public Wi-Fi network at a coffee shop or airport, or even a home network where users generally sign on without looking at the network’s name.

“The criminals can clone the network’s name and the user would have no idea if it was the legitimate network,” Ducklin says.

Ducklin praised the researchers for discovering this new flaw, saying that users may now realize that they have to take added precautions. He recommends that users consider installing a VPN client on their devices, as well as using two-factor authentication.

“The two-factor authentication can’t prevent a hack, but it can mitigate the damage,” he explains. “While a hacker may get through once, with two-factor authentication, the password that the criminals used today won’t be any good tomorrow.”

Related Content:

 

Steve Zurier has more than 30 years of journalism and publishing experience, most of the last 24 of which were spent covering networking and security technology. Steve is based in Columbia, Md. View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Security Operations and IT Operations: Finding the Path to Collaboration
A wide gulf has emerged between SOC and NOC teams that's keeping both of them from assuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of IT systems. Here's how experts think it should be bridged.
Flash Poll
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
New Best Practices for Secure App Development
The transition from DevOps to SecDevOps is combining with the move toward cloud computing to create new challenges - and new opportunities - for the information security team. Download this report, to learn about the new best practices for secure application development.
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2013-7445
Published: 2015-10-15
The Direct Rendering Manager (DRM) subsystem in the Linux kernel through 4.x mishandles requests for Graphics Execution Manager (GEM) objects, which allows context-dependent attackers to cause a denial of service (memory consumption) via an application that processes graphics data, as demonstrated b...

CVE-2015-4948
Published: 2015-10-15
netstat in IBM AIX 5.3, 6.1, and 7.1 and VIOS 2.2.x, when a fibre channel adapter is used, allows local users to gain privileges via unspecified vectors.

CVE-2015-5660
Published: 2015-10-15
Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) vulnerability in eXtplorer before 2.1.8 allows remote attackers to hijack the authentication of arbitrary users for requests that execute PHP code.

CVE-2015-6003
Published: 2015-10-15
Directory traversal vulnerability in QNAP QTS before 4.1.4 build 0910 and 4.2.x before 4.2.0 RC2 build 0910, when AFP is enabled, allows remote attackers to read or write to arbitrary files by leveraging access to an OS X (1) user or (2) guest account.

CVE-2015-6333
Published: 2015-10-15
Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) 1.1j allows local users to gain privileges via vectors involving addition of an SSH key, aka Bug ID CSCuw46076.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
In past years, security researchers have discovered ways to hack cars, medical devices, automated teller machines, and many other targets. Dark Reading Executive Editor Kelly Jackson Higgins hosts researcher Samy Kamkar and Levi Gundert, vice president of threat intelligence at Recorded Future, to discuss some of 2016's most unusual and creative hacks by white hats, and what these new vulnerabilities might mean for the coming year.