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Wireless security is even flakier than we thought

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Security researchers have published details of the weaknesses in encryption techniques widely used to secure wireless networks.

The root cause of the gaping security holes derive from flaws in the key-scheduling algorithm used by the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol, which is part of the 802.11 wireless networking standard.

Wireless security vulnerabilities have been widely publicised before but the difference with this flaw is that it might be far easier to exploit. EE Times reports that a passive ciphertext attack, based on the theoretical groundwork laid by the researchers, would allow someone with a wireless LAN connection to retrieve a security key in less than 15 minutes.

Increasing the key-length used in encryption would do little to frustrate the attack, which relies in fundamental mistakes in the methodology of the encryption technique used.

The researchers, Scott Fluhrer of Cisco, Itsik Mantin and Adi Shamir (the co-inventor of the RSA algorithm), are due to present their findings at the Eighth Annual Workshop on Selected Areas in Cryptography, which will be held in Toronto between August 16 and 17.

Industry groups involved in the promotion of wireless networking said that the work of the researchers shows that the security measures in 802.11 alone are not enough. The Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance advocated the use of additional security techniques, such as the use of VPNs, in order to secure wireless LANS. ®

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Related Links

EE Times: Cipher attacks deliver heavy blow to WLAN security (research paper)
Weaknesses in the Key Scheduling Algorithm of RC4 (technical paper)

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