‘Wi-Fi Pineapple’ Allows Covert Penetration Tests

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWeek and contributor to TechWeek

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A small, Linux-powered device unveiled at DEF CON allows hackers to take over devices’ Wi-Fi connections and manipulate data flows

Many good open-source software tools are freely available for penetration testers (and hackers) for testing the security of Wi-Fi networks and their users. Getting those tools to run on a given computer isn’t always easy, and walking around with a notebook running Wi-Fi penetration tools isn’t exactly the right approach if you’re trying to be discreet.

That’s where a device displayed at the DEF CON hacker conference last weekend comes into play and changes the game. The Wi-Fi Pineapple is a small-form-factor Linux device that can discreetly fit in a security researcher’s bag, enabling the researcher to unobtrusively conduct a penetration-testing exercise. At a presentation in the Wireless Hacking Village at DEF CON, for example, a researcher cut out the middle of a large textbook and hid the Pineapple inside.

New capabilities

Pineapple creator Darren Kitchen described the device and detailed new capabilities. Kitchen explained that the original idea to build the Pineapple came from a desire to port the open-source Karma Wi-Fi attack program to the FON, a small Fonera router.

Firma VThe Pineapple has expanded since then and is now on its MarkIV hardware release, featuring a 400MHz Atheros AR9331 MIPS processor, 32MB of main memory and a complete 802.11 b/g/n stack.

When asked what version of Linux was running on the device, Kitchen said to think of the Pineapple as being its own Linux distribution, based somewhat on the OpenWRT Linux router project.

Karma, which is at the core of the Pineapple feature set, essentially pitches itself across the wireless spectrum to all endpoint clients looking for an access point, much like any other AP. But there is a big difference, which may seem frightening to some.

The way many modern desktop and mobile Wi-Fi stacks work is they first look for past connections so the user can get onto the network quickly. So, for example, if your device commonly connects to an AP with the name “Friendly AP”, the next time your device sees the “Friendly AP” it can automatically connect with it. When the client endpoint is looking for an access point (whether it’s your home/office, Starbucks or the Friendly AP), Karma responds, essentially claiming (fraudulently) to be the access point the end user is looking for.

Once the user connects, that user is then at the mercy of the researcher. The Pineapple then adds other tools that can enable a researcher to manipulate the traffic of the end user. Going a step further, if a Pineapple user is inside a coffee shop (or office location), the research can execute what is known as a “deauth” attack, essentially disconnecting the end user from the legitimate access point, then reconnecting him or her to the Pineapple.

Open source

The whole project is open source, though the actual Pineapple hardware carries a cost of $90 (£60), at least at DEF CON. Apparently, it’s an offer that hackers can’t refuse either.

Kitchen said that 1.2 Pineapples were sold per minute on the first day of DEF CON. His company Hak5 didn’t bring enough devices to the event, and they were sold out after only a single day.

Researchers say that if the device is solely used with malicious intent, it helps make the process of Wi-Fi exploitation easier. In that respect, all those Pineapples now out on the street could represent a real threat of which enterprise IT managers need to be wary.

However, some security experts say that weaknesses in Wi-Fi and user behaviour need to be identified and weeded out in order to make organisations more secure. If the Pineapple is able to help security researchers do that, they say, then it will improve security for everyone.

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Originally published on eWeek.