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Proprietary Improvements to WEP and WEP Usage

The final parts of the chapter before we move forward into discussing applied cryptography and implementing secure authentication and VPNs on wireless networks is devoted to the proprietary and standards-based improvements for currently vulnerable 802.11 safeguards.

The most publicized 802.11 vulnerability is the insecurity of WEP. We have already reviewed the cryptographic weaknesses of WEP linked to the key IV space reuse and insecure key-from-string generation algorithm. There are also well-known WEP key management issues:

  • All symmetric cipher implementations suffer secure key distribution problems. WEP is no exception. In the original design, WEP was supposed to defend small, single-cell LANs. Wireless networks of the 21st century often involve thousands of mobile hosts, making manual distribution and change of WEP keys a nightmare.

  • The WEP key supplies device and not user-based authentication. If a cracker steals or finds a lost device, he or she steals access to the WLAN this device is configured to connect to.

  • All hosts on the LAN have the same WEP key. Sniffing WLAN is as easy as sniffing shared Ethernet, and other devastating attacks can be launched, as demonstrated in Chapter 9. Remember that internal malcontents among employees present even more of a threat than external attackers. Users on the wireless network who share the same WEP key belong to the same data domain, even if the wireless network is split into different broadcast domains. All the internal attacker who knows WEP needs to do to snoop on traffic belonging to different WLAN subnets is to put his or her card into the promiscuous mode.

Both cryptographic and key management issues were addressed (or, at least, attempted to be addressed) by the IEEE standards committee and various WLAN equipment and software vendors.

The first response by many vendors was increasing the standard implemented WEP key length to 128 bits (so-called WEP2) or higher. As you should already know, such an approach will not help against anything but simple brute-forcing unless the IV space is increased.

The first real fixes for the WEP insecurities were probably the RSA propositions considering use of per-packet keying and elimination of the first keystream bytes. These suggestions are briefly reviewed in Chapter 11. It appears that the Agere/Proxim WEPPlus has implemented the elimination of first keystream bytes or a similar solution with the release of the eigth version of the Agere/Proxim WLAN card firmware. We have tested WEPPlus against AirSnort using the AP 2000 Orinoco access point and Orinoco Gold 802.11a/b ComboCards (Figure 10-2), which used WEPPlus, and we can confirm that in a three-day traffic dumping session we didn't discover a single interesting IV frame. Of course, if some of the clients on the WLAN do not implement WEPPlus, the whole purpose of the countermeasure will be defeated because a fallback to the standard WEP will occur.

Figure 10.2. Proxim gear used.



Cisco SAFE blueprints implement key rotation policies that can be centrally configured at the Windows-based access control server or UNIX-based access registar. Of course, modern Cisco SAFE is fully WPA-compliant, but here we refer to the initial and still widely used Cisco Centralized Key Management (CCKM). CCKM ensures that the WEP key change occurs transparently for end users. With CCKM, it is possible to configure key rotation policies at the Cisco Aironet access points and use recording, auditing, and even charging for WLAN usage employing RADIUS accounting records. CCKM is set on a per-SSID basis and requires configured EAP-based authentication on the network. A CCKM-enabled access point on your WLAN acts as a wireless domain service (WDM) and maintains a cache of security credentials for all CCKM client devices on the subnet. Cisco has also developed its own improvements to WEP and basic WEP integrity check. These improvements include Cisco Key Integrity Protocol (CKIP) and Cisco Message Integrity Check (CMIC), which are based on the early developments of the 802.11 task group "i." They can be enabled on Cisco Aironet access points using encryption mode cipher ckip, encryption mode cipher cmic, and encryption mode cipher ckip-cmic commands on a per-VLAN basis. Thus, even the pre-WPA Cisco SAFE blueprints provide a sufficient level of 802.11 security to rely on. Of course, they still suffer from the same problem as any other proprietary security solution: You must have a uniformed Cisco Aironet WLAN. With public wireless access spots or conference WLANs, this is not possible.

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