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Date: Mon, 5 Feb 2001 22:00:35 -0500
To: <buncha people>, [EMAIL PROTECTED]
From: Somebody
Subject: WEP Wipes Out

February 5, 2001

Tech Center

Researchers Find That Hackers
Can Penetrate Wireless Network


A group of respected security researchers has found vulnerabilities in one
of the most popular data-networking technologies that could expose
corporate computer networks to eavesdropping and unauthorized access.
Researchers Find Software Flaw Giving Hackers Key to Web Sites (Jan. 30)

The group, which includes a computer-science professor at the University of
California at Berkeley, a recent graduate and a current computer-science
student, discovered the weaknesses in the so-called Wired Equivalent
Privacy algorithm, or WEP. The security measure is employed in the wildly
popular 802.11b wireless networking technologies that allow people to
connect to networks using simple radio antennas in their laptop or desktop

The technology, also called Wi-Fi, is sold by many vendors but was
popularized by Apple Computer Inc. under the name AirPort and is quickly
being deployed in networks at a growing number of businesses, college
campuses, hotels and airports. By the end of 2001, an estimated 10 million
Wi-Fi radios will be deployed, according to research firm Cahners In-Stat.
Starbucks Corp., for instance, plans to use the technology to allow latte
quaffers to noodle around the Internet.

"We found a number of ways to intercept transmissions and discover what the
contents are," says Nikita Borisov, a 23-year-old graduate student at
Berkeley. "We found ways to modify transmissions as they're sent. And we
found ways to access the network even if it's restricted." Mr. Borisov,
along with professor David Wagner and recent graduate Ian Goldberg, Friday
published their findings on the Internet(www.isaac.cs.berkeley.edu).

The weakness is yet another reminder of the intractable difficulties in
implementing effective network security. For years researchers have
discovered frailties in hardware and software manufactured by some of the
world's most revered and valuable companies. In recent years, companies
such as Microsoft Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp. have had to
address browser vulnerabilities, for example, brought to light by
network-security specialists around the globe. Mr. Goldberg himself found a
significant flaw in the Netscape browser in 1995. Most recently, he and
others discovered a vulnerability that would allow a hacker to eavesdrop on
conversations held on GSM phones, a cellphone technology used in Europe.
Cryptographers decry the fact that the underlying security mechanisms
aren't submitted to the security community at large to test them until
after products have been shipped to market.

The group behind the latest discovery is no different. "During the design
process, the crypto community wasn't invited to participate," says Mr.
Goldberg, now chief scientist at Zero Knowledge Systems Inc., a
privacy-software firm in Montreal.

Earlier versions of Wi-Fi were devised in 1997 by a group of volunteer
technologists at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or
IEEE. Wi-Fi proponents dispute that technical specifications were anything
but open to peer review. The charges of secrecy are "absolutely not true,"
says Greg Ennis, technical director of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility
Alliance and a former member of the IEEE. "It is open to anybody," he said.

Mr. Ennis agrees that the newest vulnerabilities are an issue of concern.
The Wired Equivalent Privacy system, he says, "has been known from the
outset not to be an end-all-be-all security system." Like others, he
advocates the use of additional security measures that would prevent
unlawful breaches of privacy, such as virtual private-network technology
that transmits data through an encrypted "tunnel." He adds that the IEEE is
working on future versions that won't be vulnerable.

But Mr. Ennis says this type of attack "requires a significant mounted
effort" to accomplish.

The researchers counter, however, that once someone writes a piece of
software, known as a "script," to exploit the weakness, it can be
distributed to "script kiddies" who don't need expertise to mount the
attack. Such tools "will probably be written, after which a high degree of
investment will no longer be needed," says Harvie Branscomb, who built one
of the first public-access wireless networks.

Traditionally, human error has compounded network-security issues and
wireless networks are no exception. Many businesses deploy wireless
networks, connected to their internal conventional networks, without
activating security measures such as WEP. One computer-security consultant
in New York, who asked not to be identified, said he was able to access the
computer network of his client, a major financial-services firm on Wall
Street, while sitting on a bench across the street. Though he didn't have
free range of the network, it was as if he walked through the building
lobby, past a receptionist and sat down at one of the firm's computers.

"From a taxi driving by you could gain access to their network," he said.
That is the unique challenge of wireless networks: Radio transmitters beam
out data beyond the walls of buildings.

The latest vulnerabilities also point to human error in the design. "Some
of the mistakes they made are howlers," said Steven Bellovin, a security
researcher at AT&T.

One weakness resides in the system that scrutinizes data packets when they
are received at a destination. The system, called a "checksum," applies a
mathematical formula to the contents of the packet of data and generates a
number. When the packet of data is received, its checksum is recalculated
to ensure that the packet hasn't been corrupted or modified. The Berkeley
researchers found, however, that the packets and their checksum could be
modified without detection.


<Somebody's .sig>

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R. A. Hettinga <mailto: [EMAIL PROTECTED]>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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