If you haven’t heard about key reinstallation attacks yet, they’re the most recent form of Wi-Fi hacking. It’s also possible that you actually have heard about them under their media nickname, which is ‘Krack Attacks.’

Regardless of the nomenclature, key reinstallation attacks are attempts to exploit a flaw in the Wi-Fi encryption protocol which permits hackers to hijack all kinds of personal information, including photos, passwords, and account numbers. The first thing to know about key reinstallation attacks is that they’re not specifically targeting any particular hardware, but rather a weakness in the Wi-Fi protocol itself.

This means that all smartphones, mobile devices, routers, and desktop machines are subject to attack, and any or all of your personal data may abruptly come into the possession of someone with criminal intent. Today, we’re here to discuss what you should know about this new threat.

How Key Reinstallation Attacks Work

Researchers have uncovered a flaw in the WPA2 Wi-Fi protocol which allows hackers to replicate a user’s network entirely, and by falsely representing the Media Access Control (MAC) address, which is a device’s physical address, it can actually cause a switch in Wi-Fi channels.

When a bogus network is set up in this way, it can actually intercept signals from any remote device attempting to connect to the original system, causing such attempts to bypass the real network, and instead connect to the rogue.

The way WPA2 encryption is supposed to work, it would require a unique key for any encryption request, but the flaw uncovered in the WPA2 protocol does not always need that specific key, and instead, reuses a previous one. The problem is particularly acute with Linux and Android, because of the way they make use of the WPA2 protocol. In these operating systems, a unique encryption key is not demanded every time an encryption request is made, leaving the system vulnerable to hacking.

In layman’s terms, the Wi-Fi protocol can be exploited when hackers can find a vulnerable network and take advantage of the WPA2 weakness, ultimately directing users to the rogue network for data hijacking.

Little people browsing the internet on their laptops, perched on a laptop. Key reinstallation attacks take advantage of how ubiquitous Wi-Fi is.

Key reinstallation attacks take advantage of the fact that most of our world now runs on Wi-FI so it’s important to take precautions before connecting to an unfamiliar Wi-Fi network or an insecure one.

Researchers Proof of Concept

Previous minor flaws had already been uncovered in the WPA2 protocol, so researchers were already fearful that some even more significant problem might be lurking within the software. The key reinstallation flaw was discovered by those researchers, who then conducted proof of concept experiments to attack a theoretically vulnerable Wi-Fi system. On an Android system, the researchers were successful in intercepting and decrypting all the test victim’s data.

According to these penetration experts, the same kind of ‘success’ could not be achieved on a system setup with HTTPS secure socket layers but would wreak havoc on sites which have been poorly set up and missing HTTPS. While Linux and Android are most severely affected because of how they use WPA2, other operating systems like Windows, MacOS, and OpenBSD would also be compromised but to a lesser degree. How serious is the issue for Android? Experts recommend that owners of Android devices shut off Wi-Fi until known fixes have been applied to close up the weakness in the protocol.

What You Can Do to Avoid Krack Attacks

One of the best things you can do to avoid the possibility of a key reinstallation attack is to look for the ‘https’ at the beginning of any URL for websites which you visit. That ‘https’ is an indicator that the site uses secure protocols, and you would be safe in visiting. You can also simply avoid using Wi-Fi for the time being, while software gurus hurriedly develop a fix for the vulnerability. This may be inconvenient, especially when you’re away from home or the office and might need Wi-Fi, but it’s much safer than having your sensitive data fall into the hands of a criminal.

One of the interesting things about these attacks is that a hacker must be within the physical range of your machine before the attack can be carried out, and while that does serve to shield many users from harm, an actual attacker can’t be identified beforehand so you know if he’s close enough. So naturally, you can’t rely on remaining safe because you aren’t within range of a criminal – after all, what does a criminal look like?

Fortunately, the fix will be relatively easy to develop in this case and should be forthcoming relatively soon. All that’s necessary is a simple change to the firmware so that during the ‘handshake’ between devices, a unique key is requested every single time, rather than sometimes relying on previously used ones which can be exploited. Get in touch with your provider and ask when fixes will be made available, and as soon as those security updates are released, make sure they are applied to all your devices.