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Wi-Fi Security: Cracking WPA With CPUs, GPUs, And The Cloud

How Secure Is Your Wireless Network?

We hear about security breaches with such increasing frequency that it's easy to assume the security world is losing its battle to protect our privacy. The idea that our information is safe is what enables so many online products and services; without it, life online would be so very different than it is today. And yet, there are plenty of examples where someone (or a group of someones) circumvents the security that even large companies put in place, compromising our identities and shaking our confidence to the core.

Understandably, then, we're interested in security, and how our behaviors and hardware can help improve it. It's not just the headache of replacing a credit card or choosing a new password when a breach happens that irks us. Rather, it's that feeling of violation when you log into your banking account and discover that someone spent funds out of it all day.

In Harden Up: Can We Break Your Password With Our GPUs?, we took a look at archive security and identified the potential weaknesses of encrypted data on your hard drive. Although the data was useful (and indeed served to scare plenty of people who were previously using insufficient protection on files they really thought were secure), that story was admittedly limited in scope. Most of us don't encrypt the data that we hold dear.

At the same time, most of us are vulnerable in other ways. For example, we don't run on LAN-only networks. We're generally connected to the Internet, and for many enthusiasts, that connectivity is extended wirelessly through our homes and businesses. They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In many cases, that weak link is the password protecting your wireless network.

There is plenty of information online about wireless security. Sorting through it all can be overwhelming. The purpose of this piece is to provide clarification, and then apply our lab's collection of hardware to the task of testing wireless security's strength. We start by breaking WEP and end with distributed WPA cracking in the cloud. By the end, you'll have a much better idea of how secure your Wi-Fi network really is.