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802.1X can be toppled ‘like set of dominoes’

Wireless LANs are STILL insecure

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Security researchers have suggested even more security shortcomings in the way Wireless LANs are set up.

In a research paper, An Initial Security Analysis of the IEEE 802.1X Standard, Professor William Arbaugh and Arunesh Mishra from the University of Maryland outline two ways the standard falls short in providing access control, authentication and key management.

Session hijacking and man-in-the-middle attacks may still be possible with 802.1X, tests by the researchers suggest. This implies flaws in the way that 802.1X works in combination with 802.11 wireless networking kit.

Arbaugh told us that 802.1X is like a "set of dominoes". If attackers mount a successful attack "confidentiality, access control and authentication" will all fall over.

The exploits (which could be used to carry out denial of service attacks among other problems) are fairly straightforward to carry out and should prompt a security rethink, the researchers argue.

"The current combination of 802.1X and 802.11 does not provide sufficient levels of security, nor will it ever without significant changes," their paper concludes.

The researchers say the attacks identified can be prevented by adding message authenticity to Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP), and 802.11 management messages. Better synchronisation of communications between clients and access point is also needed, they suggest.

The issues highlighted are important because organisations are using 802.1X (which provides port based access control) to control access and provide authentication, without encryption enabled.

Support for 802.1X is included in Cisco's Aironet 350 Series of Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b) compliant wireless local area networking (WLAN) products, which are currently shipping. Last March, Cisco teamed up with Microsoft to develop, deliver and deploy the first enterprise authentication and security architecture based on IEEE 802.1X and Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) standard.

The idea for the IEEE 802.1X standard, which deals with port-based network access control, is to allow enterprises to scale the deployment of wireless networks while still having centralised security management. It provides functions such as centralised user identification, authentication, dynamic key management and accounting.

IEEE 802.1X is positioned as providing simplified administration compared to systems which use static Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) key management.

It's well known that wireless security is pretty flaky and concerns about WEP were highlighted in research conducted by the University of California at Berkeley and security vendor Zero Knowledge Systems; this showed ways in which wireless LAN traffic could be intercepted. ®

External links

An Initial Security Analysis of the IEEE 802.1X Standard
802.11X decribed

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