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How To Crack WEP and WPA Wireless Networks

Cracking WEP, WPA-PSK and WPA2-PSK wireless security using aircrack-ng
2008-11-21 (updated: 2013-02-25) by
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With the popularity of wireless networks and mobile computing, an overall understanding of common security issues has become not only relevant, but very necessary for both home/SOHO users and IT professionals alike. This article is aimed at illustrating current security flaws in WEP/WPA/WPA2.

Successfully cracking a wireless network assumes some basic familiarity with networking principles and terminology, as well as working with command-line tools. A basic familiarity with Linux can be helpful as well.

Disclaimer: Attempting to access a network other than your own, or one you have permission to use is illegal insome U.S. jurisdictions. Speed Guide, Inc. are not to be held liable for any damages resulting from the use or misuse of the information in this article.

To successfully crack WEP/WPA, you first need to be able to set your wireless network card in "monitor" mode to passively capture packets without being associated with a network. This NIC mode is driver-dependent, and only a relatively small number of network cards support this mode under Windows.

One of the best free utilities for monitoring wireless traffic and cracking WEP/WPA-PSK keys is the aircrack-ng suite, which we will use throughout this article. It has both Linux and Windows versions (provided your network card is supported under Windows). The aircrack-ng site has a comprehensive list of supported network cards available here: NIC chipset compatability list.

If your network card is not supported under Windows, one can use a free Linux Live CD to boot the system. BackTrack is probably the most commonly used distribution, since it runs from a Live CD, and has aircrack-ng and a number of related security auduting tools already installed.

For this article, I am using aircrack-ng on another Linux distro (Fedora Core) on a Sony Vaio SZ-680 laptop, using the built-in Intel 4965agn network card. If you're using the BackTrack CD aircrack-ng is already installed, with my version of linux it was as simple as finding it with:

yum search aircrack-ng
yum install aircrack-ng

The aircrack-ng suite is a collection of command-line programs aimed at WEP and WPA-PSK key cracking. The ones we will be using are:

airmon-ng - script used for switching the wireless network card to monitor mode
airodump-ng - for WLAN monitoring and capturing network packets
aireplay-ng - used to generate additional traffic on the wireless network
aircrack-ng - used to recover the WEP key, or launch a dictionary attack on WPA-PSK using the captured data.


1. Setup (airmon-ng)

As mentioned above, to capture network traffic wihtout being associated with an access point, we need to set the wireless network card in monitor mode. To do that under linux, in a terminal window (logged in as root), type:

iwconfig (to find all wireless network interfaces and their status)
airmon-ng start wlan0   (to set in monitor mode, you may have to substitute wlan0 for your own interface name)

Note: You can use the su command to switch to a root account.

Other related Linux commands:

ifconfig (to list available network interfaces, my network card is listed as wlan0)
ifconfig wlan0 down (to stop the specified network card)
ifconfig wlan0 hw ether 00:11:22:33:44:55 (change the MAC address of a NIC - can even simulate the MAC of an associated client. NIC should be stopped before chaning MAC address)
iwconfig wlan0 mode monitor (to set the network card in monitor mode)
ifconfig wlan0 up (to start the network card)
iwconfig - similar to ifconfig, but dedicated to the wireless interfaces.


2. Recon Stage (airodump-ng)

This step assumes you've already set your wireless network interface in monitor mode. It can be checked by executing the iwconfig command. Next step is finding available wireless networks, and choosing your target:

airodump-ng mon0 - monitors all channels, listing available access points and associated clients within range. It is best to select a target network with strong signal (PWR column), more traffic (Beacons/Data columns) and associated clients (listed below all access points). Once you've selected a target, note its Channel and BSSID (MAC address). Also note any STATION associated with the same BSSID (client MAC addresses). 

Click to expand
running airodump-ng displays all wireless access points and associated clients in range, as well as MAC addresses, SSIDs, signal levels and other information about them.

WEP is much easier to crack than WPA-PSK, as it only requires data capturing (between 20k and 40k packets), while WPA-PSK needs a dictionary attack on a captured handshake between the access point and an associated client which may or may not work.


3. Capture Data (airodump-ng)

To capture data into a file, we use the airodump-ng tool again, with some additional switches to target a specific AP and channel. Most importantly, you should restrict monitoring to a single channel to speed up data collection, otherwise the wireless card has to alternate between all channels. Assuming our wireless card is mon0, and we want to capture packets on channel 6 into a text file called data:

airodump-ng -c 6 bssid 00:0F:CC:7D:5A:74 -w data mon0  (-c6 switch would capture data on channel 6, bssid 00:0F:CC:7D:5A:74 is the MAC address of our target access point, -w data specifies that we want to save captured packets into a file called "data" in the current directory, mon0 is our wireless network adapter)

Click to expand
Running airodump-ng on a single channel targeting a specific access point

You typically need between 20,000 and 40,000 data packets to successfully recover a WEP key.
One can also use the "--ivs" switch with the airodump-ng command to capture only IVs, instead of whole packets, reducing the required disk space. However, this switch can only be used if targeting a WEP network, and renders some types of attacks useless.


4. Increase Traffic (aireplay-ng) - optional step for WEP cracking

An active network can usually be penetrated within a few minutes. However, slow networks can take hours, even days to collect enough data for recovering the WEP key.

This optional step allows a compatible network interface to inject/generate packets to increase traffic on the wireless network, therefore greatly reducing the time required for capturing data. The aireplay-ng command should be executed in a separate terminal window, concurrent to airodump-ng. It requires a compatible network card and driver that allows for injection mode.

Assuming your network card is capable of injecting packets, in a separate terminal window try:

aireplay-ng -3 -b 00:0F:CC:7D:5A:74 -h 00:14:A5:2F:A7:DE -x 50 wlan0
-3  --> this specifies the type of attack, in our case ARP-request replay
-b ..... --> MAC address of access point
-h ..... --> MAC address of associated client from airodump
-x 50 --> limit to sending 50 packets per second
wlan0 --> our wireless network interface

Click to expand
aireplay-ng allows for injecting packets to greatly reduce the time required to recover a WEP key

To test whether your nic is able to inject packets, you may want to try: aireplay-ng -9 wlan0. You may also want to read the information available -here-.
To see all available replay attacks, type just: aireplay-ng


5. Crack WEP (aircrack-ng)

WEP cracking is a simple process, only requiring collection of enough data to then extract the key and connect to the network. You can crack the WEP key while capturing data. In fact, aircrack-ng will re-attempt cracking the key after every 5000 packets.

To attempt recovering the WEP key, in a new terminal window, type:

aircrack-ng data*.cap  (assuming your capture file is called data...cap, and is located in the same directory)

Click to expand
aircrack-ng can successfully recover a WEP key with 10-40k captured packets. The retreived key is in hexadecimal, and can be entered directly into a wireless client omitting the ":" separators

If your data file contains ivs/packets from different access points, you may be presented with a list to choose which one to recover.
Usually, between 20k and 40k packets  are needed to successfully crack a WEP key. It may sometimes work with as few as 10,000 packets with short keys.


6. Crack WPA or WPA2 PSK (aircrack-ng)

WPA, unlike WEP rotates the network key on a per-packet basis, rendering the WEP method of penetration useless. Cracking a WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK key requires a dictionary attack on a handshake between an access point and a client. What this means is, you need to wait until a wireless client associates with the network (or deassociate an already connected client so they automatically reconnect). All that needs to be captured is the initial "four-way-handshake" association between the access point and a client. Essentially, the weakness of WPA-PSK comes down to the passphrase. A short/weak passphrase makes it vulnerable to dictionary attacks.

To successfully crack a WPA-PSK network, you first need a capture file containing handshake data. This can be obtained using the same technique as with WEP in step 3 above, using airodump-ng.

You may also try to deauthenticate an associated client to speed up this process of capturing a handshake, using:

aireplay-ng --deauth 3 -a MAC_AP -c MAC_Client mon0  (where MAC_IP is the MAC address of the access point,  MAC_Client is the MAC address of an associated client, mon0 is your wireless NIC).

The command output looks something like:
12:34:56  Waiting for beakon frame (BSSID: 00:11:22:33:44:55:66) on channel 6
12:34:56 Sending 64 directed DeAuth. STMAC: [00:11:22:33:44:55:66]   [ 5:62 ACKs]

Note the last two numbers in brackets [ 5:62 ACKs] show the number of acknowledgements received from the client NIC (first number) and the AP (second number). It is important to have some number greater than zero in both. If the first number is zero, that indicates that you're too far from the associated client to be able to send deauth packets to it, you may want to try adding a reflector to your antenna (even a simple manilla folder with aluminum foil stapled to it works as a reflector to increase range and concentrate the signal significantly), or use a larger antenna.

Click to expand
Simple antenna reflector using aluminum foil stapled to a manilla folder can concentrate the signal and increase range significantly. For best results, you'll have to place the antenna exactly in the middle and change direction as necessary. Of course there are better reflectors out there, a parabolic reflector would offer even higher gain, for example.

Once you have captured a four-way handshake, you also need a large/relevant dictinary file (commonly known as wordlists) with common passphrases. See related links below for some wordlist links.

You can, then execute the following command in a linux terminal window (assuming both the dictionary file and captured data file are in the same directory):

aircrack-ng -w wordlist capture_file (where wordlist is your dictionary file, and capture_file is a .cap file with a valid WPA handshake)

Additional Notes:
Cracking WPA-PSK and WPA2-PSK only needs 4 packets of data from the network (a handshake). After that, an offline dictionary attack on that handshake takes much longer, and will only succeed with weak passphrases and good dictionary files. A good size wordlist should be 20+ Megabytes in size, cracking a strong passphrase will take hours and is CPU intensive.

Cracking WPA/WPA2 usually takes many hours, testing tens of millions of possible keys for the chance to stumble on a combination of common numerals or dictionary words. Still, a weak/short/common/human-readable passphrase can be broken within a few minutes using an offline dictionary attack. My record time was less than a minute on an all-caps 10-character passphrase using common words with less than 11,000 tested keys! A modern laptop can process over 10 Million possible keys in less than 3 hours.

WPA hashes the network key using the wireless access point's SSID as salt. This prevents the statistical key-grabbing techniques that broke WEP, and makes hash precomputation more dificult because the specific SSID needs to be added as salt for the hash. There are some tools like coWPAtty that can use precomputed hash files to speed up dictionary attacks. Those hash files can be very effective (sicne they're much less CPU intensive and therefore faster), but quite big in size. The Church of WiFi has computed hash tables for the 1000 most common SSIDs against a million common passphrases that are 7Gb and 33Gb in size...


7. Crack WPA using the WPS Vulnerability (Reaver)

Many Wi-Fi devices are aslo vulnerable to a WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) vulnerability described in US-CERT TA12-006A Alert. WPS provides simplified mechanisms to secure wireless networks, most often using a PIN as a shared secret to authenticate clients and share the WEP/WPA/WPA2 passwords and keys. The external PIN exchange mechanism is susceptible to brute-force attacks that allow for bypassing wireless security in a relatively short time (few hours). The only remedy is to turn off WPS, or use an updated firmware that specifically addresses this issue.

A free Linux open-source tool called Reaver is able to exploit the WPS vulnerability. To launch an attack:

1. Install Reaver -
2. Set your network adapter in monitor mode as described above, using:

ifconfig wlan0 down
iwconfig wlan0 mode monitor
ifconfig wlan0 up

Alternatively, you can put your network card in monitor mode using: airmon-ng start wlan0 (this will produce an alternate adapter name for the virtual monitor mode adapter, usually mon0 )

3. Before using Reaver to initiate a brute-force WPS attack, you may want to check which access points in the area have WPS enabled and are vulnerable to the attack. You can identify them using the "wash" Reaver command as follows:

wash -i mon0 --ignore-fcs

4. Run Reaver (it only requires two inputs: the interface to use, and the MAC address of the target)

reaver -i mon0 -b 00:01:02:03:04:05 -vv

There are a number of other parameters that one can explore to further tweak the attack that are usually not required, such as changing the delay between PIN attempts, setting the tool to pause when the access point stops responding, responding to the access point to clear out failed attempts, etc. The above example adds "-vv" to turn on full verbose mode, you can use "-v" instead for fewer messages. Reaver has a number of other switches (check with --help), for example " -c11" will manually set it to use only channel 11, " --no-nacks" may help with some APs.

5. Spoof client MAC address if needed. In some cases you may want/need to spoof your MAC address. Reaver supports MAC spoofing with the --mac option, however, for it to work you will have to change the MAC address of your card's physical interface (wlan0) first, before you specify the reaver option to the virtual monitor interface (usually mon0). To spoof the MAC address:

ifconfig wlan0 down
ifconfig wlan0 hw ether 00:11:22:33:44:55
ifconfig wlan0 up
airmon-ng start wlan0
reaver -i mon0 -b .... -vv --mac=00:11:22:33:44:55

An attack using Reaver typically takes between 4 and 8 hours (provided WPS requests are not being limited by the AP), and returns the SSID, WPS PIN and WPA passphrase for the target network. Note that some routers may lock you out for a few minutes if they detect excessive failed WPS PIN attempts, in such cases it may take over 24 hours.

Some routers (including most popular Cisco/Linksys models) will NOT turn off WPS even if turned off via the radio button in their web admin interface. You may be able to turn it off using third-party firmware, such as DD-WRT (wich does not support WPS).
Reportedly, some models/vendors/ISPs all come configured with a default pin. Common pins are 12345670, 00005678, 01230000, etc. Reaver attempts known default pins first.
Reaver comilation requires libpcap (pcap-devel) and sq3-devel (sqlite3-dev) installed, or you will get a "pcap library not found" error.


Troubleshooting Tips

Even with the above tools properly installed, it is common to get a few errors/warnings during the attacks, usually related to timeouts, poor signal, or interface driver not supporting monitor/injection modes. Here are some points to consider:

1. Is your adapter properly set in monitor mode ?
2. Does the adapter driver support injection (is aireplay-ng working) ?
3. Do you have to spoof your MAC address (if AP limits MACs, change both physical and virtual monitor interface) ?
4. Do you have a good signal to the AP ?
5. Do you see associated clients (for WPA handshake capture) ?
6. Do you see WPS pin count incrementing (Reaver WPA cracking) ?
7. Does the target AP support WPS and is it enabled (for WPS attacks, check with the "wash" command) ?


Final Thoughts

As demonstrated above, WEP cracking has become increasingly easier over the years, and what used to take hundreds of thousands packets and days of capturing data can be accomplished today within 15 minutes with a mere 20k data frames. Simply put, cracking WEP is trivial.

WPA/WPA2-PSK encryption is holding its ground if using a strong, long key. However, weak passphrases are vulnerable to dictionary attacks. WPA/WPA2 may be on borrowed time as well, according to some recent news.

The WPS vulnerability renders even WPA/WPA2 secured wireless networks very vulnerable. An extensive list of vulnerable devices is available here: google docs spreadsheet. Note that some routers (including most popular Cisco/Linksys models) will NOT turn off WPS even if turned off via the radio button in their web admin interface. You may be able to turn it off using third-party firmware, such as DD-WRT (which does not support WPS).


Related Links
reaver (WPS vulnerability)
WPA Wordlists - Torrent search
Openwall wordlist collection
Wordlists mirror
the A.R.G.O.N. - wordlists
Church of WiFi hash tables

  User Reviews/Comments:
by demola - 2009-02-07 08:02
can it be used with vista?
by Philip - 2009-02-07 10:40
Yes, the aircrack suite will work under Vista as well. All commands need to be ran under "elevated command prompt" (admininstrator priviledges), or you need to have UAC (User Account Control) turned off.

The only potential problem under Windows is that fewer network adapters have compatible drivers that support monitor mode.
by Timothy - 2009-02-17 16:57

finnaly I got Back Track work (this allready took me a few time =) ) But now I typed in "ifconfig" at the console but it doesn't show me a wirless interface. Do I need to install any drivers ? Or does it simply not work with my Laptop's Wirless Card. It's a Intel Wireless WiFi Link 5100. When I look at the compatibility list it should work I think :

Centrino a/g/n (5xxx) NO YES YES

Pls Help me.

Greetings Timothy
by anonymous - 2009-03-03 09:03
Intel wireless cards don't play well with Linux. Consider getting a D-Link card that uses an Atheros chipset or get any other Atheros based card.
by Philip - 2009-03-03 09:51
While it is true that Atheros-based NICs have the widest support, latest linux kernels have improved Intel-based support.

I have had no problem running aircrack with my Intel 4965agn wireless NIC as mentioned in the article.
by arrowunderworld - 2009-03-04 01:50
To show me a wirless interface attached to your computer, you need to type: iwconfig.

Good luck
by dominique - 2009-03-05 07:51
hey Phil,

so im wondering.. after this process, do i have to put my wireless card back in normal or "managed" mode as i think its called? and if so how do i do so? thx a bunch in advance. i havent done this crack process yet cuz i want all the intangibles covered as much as i can but as soon as u reply, i will. cuz ur guide look legit and fool proof. thx again.
by anonymous - 2009-03-06 21:13
When using backtrack 3 on my sony VGN-TZ160C which has the same network card chipset I got the

"ERROR: Neither the sysfs interface links nor the iw command is available"

when running airmon-ng start wlan0

it tells me to install iw but I found no easy way to install it.

Then again i'm running backtrack 3 from my usb dongle, I did not nor know how to install the image to the USB so I beleive the installation is readonly. Is it possible to install IW or how do I install backtrack to the USB dongle ?

Thanks for pointing me in the right direction
by triniwasp - 2009-03-07 02:15
Thanks for the article Phillip, I was wondering does one need to install a Linux OS on the machine or can it be done from Virtual Box or similar software?
by Philip - 2009-03-07 09:47
triniwasp, theoretically it's possible to run aircrack-ng under Windows if you have the right driver for your network card.

Alternatively, you can run Backtrack 3 from a live CD, or you can install some other version of Linux on a USB drive (or a second partition on your HDD).

Ultimately, it depends which OS supports the monitor/inject mode for your network card.
by triniwasp - 2009-03-10 13:16

When I attempt to capture after entering the commands I get the following message:
"airodump-ng --help" for help

Nor is there a data file in my home folder, do you have any idea what I'm doing wrong?

by anonymous - 2009-04-20 15:23
i have a ap in client mode because i dont have a wireless card. Its possible crack the wires founded by my ap?
by anonymous - 2009-05-15 10:41
I was getting the same error but made it work by typing

airodump-ng --channel 6 --bssid 00:0F:CC:7D:5A:74 -w data mon0

This should work
by Jingfeng - 2009-08-23 07:04
Very clear instructions.
Does it work with Mac OS X?
by - 2009-09-20 23:12
For Mac OS X try Kismac
by anonymous - 2009-10-03 18:09
Greetings from London. When I do the aireplay --deauth command, is there any indication that would tell me if it worked or not?
by Kojak1958 - 2009-10-27 11:29
Hello ? Speed guide ? The lights are on. Is anybody really home ?

You can hide, and have hidden, behind the letter of the law.
Publishing this information is ethically criminal. Your disclaimer
clearly indicates you understand people will use this information
to do what ought not to be done. Namely hacking into networks
not their own. Shame on you speed guide !
by Philip - 2009-10-27 12:48
Security by obscurity is not a sound principle in our book. In other words, the notion that unknown security flaws are unlikely to be found by attackers is false.

WEP, for example, has very well known exploits, and anyone serious about securing their network should be aware of the extent of such flaws.

The article above merely informs readers how this is accomplished, therefore allowing them to make more educated choices when choosing encryption methods.
by Kojak1958 - 2009-10-28 13:58

You have only to look at all the other posts here, in order to clearly understand what is happening. Others posting here are helping each other hack private networks (not protect themselves), whether you do or do not acknowledge this it doesn't change the truth of the matter. Period.
by Philip - 2009-11-08 12:54
Inormation can be used in different ways. The fact that there exists the possibility of it being used unethically does not justify hiding it, and does not make it "shameful".
by zoltan - 2009-11-17 10:28

and that does jack what to my RADIUS setup?
by anonymous - 2009-11-17 13:09
The best article I have read on using the aircrack suite. Thanks for posting, this information needs to be known.
by Wdb8 - 2009-11-27 18:34
Dear Writer,

I am extremely thankful to you for this informative, clean, pin pointed and easy to understand tutorial. It worked for me as piece of cake.

Before, I could reach at your article, I tried almost 50 Tutorials and 10 different Linux Distros.. but my wireless RT2870 Chipset was not compatible for the said purpose.

Thank you again
by MD - 2009-12-04 22:27
Well, your tutorial was really easy to follow. Other ones at the default website and some forums were really long and confusing for me, even I am using Linux for over 5 years. I don't get why those people have written more commands and other shit.

Good work. Keep it up!
by asd123mnm - 2009-12-12 02:16
I have same intel 4965 agn with hp dv6985 se,Operating system Vista.I em using Vmware and running backtrack 3.I still cannot see my card.Please help me
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