Researchers have found a method of cracking a key encryption feature used in securing wireless systems that doesn't require trying a large number of possibilities. Details will be discussed at the sixth annual PacSec conference in Tokyo next week.
According to PCWorld, researchers Erik Tews and Martin Beck have found a way to crack the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) key, used by Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). Moreover, they can do so in about 15 minutes. The crack apparently only works for data aimed at a Wi-Fi adapter; they have not cracked the encryption keys used to secure data that goes from the PC to the router
TKIP has been known to be vulnerable when using a high volume of educated guesses, or what's called a dictionary attack. The methods to be described by Tews and Beck do not use a dictionary attack. Apparently their attack uses a flood of data from the WPA router combined with a mathematical trick that cracks the encryption.
Some elements of the crack have already been added to Beck's Aircrack-ng Wi-Fi encryption hacking tool used by penetration testers and others.
Tews is no stranger to cracking Wi-Fi encryption. In 2007, he broke 104-bit WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) (PDF) in 2007. WEP was used by TJX Corp. to secure wireless cash register transmissions from its stores but criminals were able to exploit weaknesses in its encryption to commit the largest data breach in U.S. history.
Given that WEP and WPA are not secure, experts recommend using WPA2 when securing wireless networks.