IT researcher finds widespread flaws in Wi-Fi security

A person touching a spartphone screen with a Wi-Fi signal logo floating above it

A cyber security researcher known for finding vulnerabilities in Wi-Fi security has discovered new flaws embedded in millions of Wi-Fi devices over the past two decades.

Hackers could theoretically use these vulnerabilities to steal data or take over smart home devices equipped with Wi-Fi. However, experts believe the actual risk for most Wi-Fi users is relatively small.

Belgian Mathy Vanhoef found the security flaws and calls them “frag attacks.”

Vanhoef is well-known in IT security circles for discovering a major Wi-Fi security flaw he named KRACK, short for Key Reinstallation Attack. KRACK allowed hackers to steal data, including login credentials, private chats, and credit card information, transmitted over Wi-Fi networks.

In contrast, there’s no evidence hackers are carrying out “frag attacks” at this point.

The new security flaws that Vanhoef found are even present in WPA3, also known as Wi-Fi Protected Access 3, the most updated Wi-Fi security protocol. The Wi-Fi Alliance rolled out the WPA3 certification in 2018 to protect a wider range of devices from security risks.

“Even the original Wi-Fi security protocol, called WEP, is affected. This means several of the newly discovered design flaws have been part of Wi-Fi since its release in 1997,” the researcher wrote when detailing frag attacks.

“An adversary that is within radio range of a victim can abuse these vulnerabilities to steal user information or attack devices,” Vanhoef wrote. “Three of the discovered vulnerabilities are design flaws in the Wi-Fi standard and therefore affect most devices.”

The researcher also posted a video demonstrating how the attacks work.

Fortunately, the risk is minimal for ordinary, everyday Wi-Fi users. As an additional security measure, experts advise using VPNs on public Wi-Fi hotspots and using HTTPS websites when possible.

Like with his previous “KRACK attacks” discovery, Vanhoef informed the Wi-Fi Alliance of his discovery of “frag attacks.” According to the Industry Consortium for Advancement of Security on the Internet (ICASI), Wi-Fi device manufacturers are developing fixes.

“We would like to thank Mathy Vanhoef... for identifying these issues, reporting them to industry and participating in the coordinated disclosure of these issues,” ICASI said.