Weaknesses of Security Mechanisms in 802.11 Wireless Networks

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Wireless Local Area Networks are commonly in use from the majority of Internet users for home usage, airports, Internet cafes and other places. Since those networks are not limited to wired connected devices, the introduction of Cryptography protocols was made early. This article focuses on the evolution of those protocols and the security threats that leads it. In order to confirm the insecurity level of each Protocol, laboratory known attacks and exploits were launched against Wireless Network with different Cryptography protocols.     The findings of this study confirm the existence of successful attack methods against some of the protocols, and the considerations that have been made in the later to increase Wireless Networks Security.


Over the last century, a continuous evolution is taking place in digital informatics world. This evolution became commonly acknowledged -and part of our lives- with Digital Networks. While wired Local Area Networks (LANs) were spreading their existence in home and office networks, the need of mobility and flexibility brought another technology to the foreground, the Wireless Networks. The advantages over a wired network are many, but with consequences on range, transmission rate and –the purpose of this study- security considerations (GURKAS, ZAIM and AYDIN, 2006: 123) (LIU Wu, Hai-xin and Jian-ping, 2010: 1) (BULBUL, BATMAZ and OZEL, 2008: 1). Wireless Networks became available at the early 90’s with different vendors producing devices that can communicate on frequency bands of 900mhz and 2.4Ghz. The need of a standard to provide interoperability among the different technology for WLAN products, led in 1999 to the introduction of IEEE Std 802.11 and many amendments since then (IEEE, 2007: iv). Wi-Fi is a subset of this standard and it is managed by the Wifi Alliance (CACHE, WRIGHT and LIU, 2010: 8; Wi-Fi Alliance, 1999).

Figure1: Airodump-ng  scans for Wireless Networks in range.

Figure1: Airodump-ng scans for Wireless Networks in range.

The main security concern behind wireless communications is that the information is being broadcast to everyone on same radio frequency and not trough a wired medium. That makes a Wi-fi network vulnerable to many attacks like Wardriving, Eavesdropping and others (Yuan et al., 2008: 6). In order to introduce security countermeasures, IEEE and Wi-Fi Alliance included encryption techniques such as WEP, WPA, WPA2 (CACHE, WRIGHT and LIU, 2010: 9; NIST, 2007: 20-21) (Mateti, 2005) that we will analyze and test in this study. While those security concerns and security protocols have been adopted from the majority of WLANs devices vendors, a passive scanning (Wi-Fi NIC on passive mode) for Wireless Networks in range, showed that (Figure1) many home and business networks are using vulnerable (Results of this study) security methods to protect their data from an attacker.

Georgalas Thanasis Georgalas Thanasis (7 Posts)

Professor of Computer Science / Software Engineer, M.Sc, M.A. Athens, Greece

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