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A Peek Inside The Black Hat Show Network

Black Hat USA's wireless network offers authenticated, secure access as well as 'open' access.

Source: Aruba Networks

BLACK HAT USA -- Las Vegas -- There was once a time when logging onto the wireless network at Black Hat came with the risk of finding your username or other information on the Wall of Sheep, where unsecured, sniffed user traffic was blasted on the screen for all to see in the name of security awareness.

But the Wall of Sheep is long gone (but lives on at DEF CON) and the Black Hat USA wireless network this year offers a secure locked-down option for attendees, where users are authenticated to the WPA2-based  network with their own authentication key. All traffic is encrypted, even among users who opt for open network access with a shared authentication credential.

The full-blown conference begins tomorrow, but the past two days of training sessions and classes at Black Hat have brought in more than 650 WLAN users, with about half as of today on the secured network. That's a far cry from when Black Hat WLAN network sponsor and architect Aruba Networks last hosted the conference WLAN two years ago and only about 80 users opted for the secured WLAN option.

So what security person in their right mind would opt for the "open" WiFi at Black Hat without authentication? That would be seminar attendees testing out their new hacking tools, or researchers using the unsecured segment for their work, for instance, say the Black Hat USA network operations team led by Aruba Networks, which is supplying and managing the network this year.

"There's wireless penetration testing going on right now in classes and they want to try out their new tools on the show network ... a lot of those tools require open networks," says Jon Green, CTO of Aruba Government Solutions.

The secured Black Hat wireless network forces the user to authenticate to the network and encrypts user sessions and prevents any peer-to-peer communication within the network. "No one is able to wiretap your sessions," Green says.

The one-gigabit WLAN includes 118 access points, 16 Ethernet switches, and three wireless controllers, one of which serves as a firewall. Aruba's ClearPass access management software handles user provisioning.

Aside from authenticating users and encrypting their traffic, the show network also runs wireless intrusion detection systems. "The IDS is looking at what people are doing at the wireless layer, if they're trying to impersonate one of our access points, or the show network, or doing a denial-of-service on the wireless network," Green says.

All secured wireless sessions get sent through the wireless controller, where they maintain their encrypted state, according to Aruba. "Once the traffic gets to the controller, every user has firewall policies assigned to them. By default they can do all they want to the Internet. But no wireless clients can talk to" each other, he says.

"That cuts down on nefarious stuff people might want to do," he says.

Overall, the wireless attack landscape hasn't changed much, he says. The IDS will alert any suspicious activity, and if the NOC team sees any DoS or other nefarious activity, they can pinpoint the source within the network. "We will walk over and … [find] the guy with the funny antenna on top of his laptop and tell him to stop," Green says. That happens at least a couple of times at most conferences, he says.

"We wait until it's significantly affecting" the network to take action, he says.

Outside threats are less of a worry to Aruba, mainly because any attack on the WLAN would require a long-range antenna, and the firewalls are locked down fairly tightly. Even if a user on the show network got infected, the malware would remain isolated on that machine, he says.

Even if a network user were to fall for a spear phishing attack and get infected, the attack theoretically would remain isolated and not affect other machines on the show network because they are blocked from communicating peer-to peer.

 

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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