South Africa’s mobile networks are working with device manufacturers to patch a vulnerability in the WPA2 standard.
The flaw was found by security researcher Mathy Vanhoef, who said his Key Reinstallation Attacks (KRACKs) are exceptionally devastating against Linux and Android 6.0.
The vulnerability allows an attacker to masquerade as a WPA2 network without its password, and decrypt traffic a device sends over the fake hotspot.
This is reportedly due to a weakness in the four-way handshake WPA uses to negotiate an encryption key between the Wi-Fi access point and client device.
By manipulating and replaying handshake messages, an attacker can trick a victim into re-installing a key that was already in use.
The breaking of WPA2 does not mean all traffic over a wireless connection is unsecure, however, as protocols like Transport Layer Security still protect data sent between devices and servers.
Like other Wi-Fi attacks, a KRACK requires an attacker to be in Wi-Fi range of a victim – and can then target weaknesses to learn information such as usernames and passwords.
The new vulnerability increases the number of ways existing Wi-Fi attacks may be executed, and considering the unsafe way Wi-Fi is implemented in most mobile devices, this should be a concern.
Another concern is that manufacturers have once again not released timely patches in the wake of the vulnerability being uncovered.
Android smartphones are a chief concern in South Africa, as manufacturers struggle to release standard OS updates for their flagship phones.
Mobile networks sell these smartphones, as well as Wi-Fi routers, and we asked them how they plan to address the vulnerability discovered in WPA2.
Telkom – Take safety steps
“Telkom is aware that all Wi-Fi device vendors are starting to release updates for their software and we encourage users to obtain the latest security updates for their phones or computers,” said Telkom.
“We also advise that when using a Wi-Fi hotspot in a public space, users always make use of HTTPS to connect to websites, to always use a secure app for banking, or to use a VPN to ensure all traffic is private.”
This protection works even if WPA2 is broken, and it is not recommended that users turn off WPA2 protection.
MTN – Working with manufacturers
MTN said it is treating the vulnerability as a priority.
“MTN is working closely with device manufacturers and operating system partners to ensure they are able to deliver the appropriate solutions,” said MTN SA.
Cell C – Escalated to OEMs
Cell C said it has escalated the matter to its original equipment manufacturers to ensure patches are rolled out.
“Cell C has also logged it with Wi-Fi partners, particularly at our stores, and will ensure that any patches are deployed and tested as soon as they are available.”
Vodacom – No comment
Vodacom did not respond.