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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 anonymous - 2011-11-11 23:38
This is informative reading for anybody interested in WiFi security. Thanks for the info - this is not purely useful to people wanting to crack, i'm in the business of securing networks, and trying to break them is the best way to test their resilience.

Does anybody seriously believe that not placing this information on this site will stop hackers?? if you do you need a reality check.
by ironman26 - 2011-11-16 07:24
iWifihack for Android, iPhone, or huawei ascend m860 iwifihack.apk version 2.1.3 is a free app that can crack WEP/WPA, just google/enjoy
by barrydanielcurtis - 2011-12-05 02:09
I am using CommView to build packets and create the dump file. I am told I can use aircrack ng GUI.exe to do the actual key cracking but I can not get aircrack to work. The window comes up, I choose my dump file and then hit launch and I get an error msg that the program can not be executed. Any suggestions...Im on Windows 7...THANKS ??
by puneeth - 2012-01-08 02:43
I think you are not connected to internet .Try to load a page in browser if it load then their is something wrong in console if not check internet settings
by darkdevilo1 - 2012-01-13 01:53
i am using ubuntu via vmware....but i cannot find any wlan cards using my intel wireless card!!!!
by anonymous - 2012-01-19 08:06
Thank you speedguide for allowing me to have a much better understanding of the weaknesses of my wifi. You guys ROCK!
by WiredEarp - 2012-01-19 22:57
Complaining about free information on the internet is not going to get you far.

The whole reason we actually HAVE decent encryption available to us, is because others have used these techniques, forcing makers to include better encryption systems. Otherwise, you wouldn't KNOW about it (like you do now) but you would be vulnerable to being hacked by those few who DO know about it.

The whole point of decent security is that it is regularly tested using all the best tools against it. An analogy would be that if the knowledge that simple locks could be easily bypassed to enter houses was not publicized, then the more secure locks we have nowadays would never be in existence.

Hoping no-one will figure out how to break your security, is never going to be as secure as having real security, that has been tested against the best attacks that anyone currently knows.
by kumkum - 2012-01-20 00:07
Here in Singapore, still so many people using default WEP encryption on their router. That's why I wrote my tutorial on WEP crack and show to all my friend :D
by Damian - 2012-01-20 17:07
Dear Philip

I have 2 Zyxel PLA401 powerline adapters connecting a Dlink DSL 2780 router to a EchoLife HG532 router which I have turned into a wireless access point, following these and others' instructions.

I have switched off DCHP and WAN on the WAP, and set the WAP static IP address to outside the range of the IP range that the Dlink DCHP router offers.

My problem is that the DCHP server will not allocate any IP addresses to any client connected to the WAP, but if I set the clients to static IP addresses, all works fine.

Its annoying, since I have Kobo ereaders which will not allow you to create static IP addresses, and the main router is not powerful enough to cover the whole house.

Any ideas what might be going wrong?

Thank you in advance for your time.


by VJ - 2012-01-23 04:06
I em nt abl to connect with winxp having win7 on other side.....em tryng to link using no response from Xp....
by Philip - 2012-01-25 08:28

Are the router and the WAP in the same subnet/ip range (i.e. 192.168.1.x) ? Altertanively, you can try to set the WAP as the DHCP server, and turn off DHCP in the router.
by anonymous - 2012-02-05 15:05
I was wondering if there is a program that you can use to do this with a windows computer or do I need to change my computer over to linux?
by dnlslv214 - 2012-02-26 17:41
It took me a few hours but I finally got it. Just keep working at it and you'll do fine.

Thanks for the guide, it was a huge help
by anonymous - 2012-06-01 13:57
How to use it in windows 7 i am not able to use any of the above mentioned procedure.
Though i captured packet data using microsoft network monitor in cap format but wasn't able to decode it in aircrack please guide me thorough these problems to succesfull gettin a password of WEP security.

Thanking you
by anonmice - 2012-10-05 12:44
Sometimes its better to just type in "password" before taking the long way out. Worked for this one network I found where I live... Lool...
by Maa - 2012-11-26 03:47
Hay there, this isn't working and I'm on Windows 8.
by lennyAsWell - 2013-11-07 10:27
So now you've made me all paranoid, has there been a follow-up article on how to protect myself from those who choose to wear the Black Hat. Pulling the plug is not going to be a lot of fun.
by anonymous - 2015-02-13 07:54
what about android? can i use this or a similar method on android via terminal emulator or an another app?
by Steve - 2022-01-13 10:08
Well, if you've got a good Router, and all Security enabled on your PC or Network/Firewall, any of these attempts can be blocked... even if some Hacker manages to acquire your SSID and Password/Key for Wifi. Just activate/enable 'Whitelisted Devices only' within your Router settings, while ensuring your Router is hard-wired to your PC... and Admin Functions within Router are set to the hard-wired PC/device only (remote Admin management disabled). Even if someone has your SSID and PW/Key, they can't access your Network unless their Device is authorized on the /Whitelist within your Router Admin Security area. They'd have to physically break-in to your house/building, then somehow log-on to your PC, then know how to log-on to your Router in order to access Admin Functions... and, this is when they get shot or caught on camera/alarm systems (even battery-operated non-Wifi SD card cameras... motion-activated), let alone a hard-wired security-cam/alarm system.
by Philip - 2022-01-13 16:11
MAC Hardware addresses can be spoofed to mimic your whitelisted ones. It's true that they'd have to know your MAC address, but these days people have a number of WiFi devices with access to network resources, and their hardware id's are easily visible to anyone within range. If you have wired-only admin area that's great, but if they get on your WiFi they may be able to see network shares, install trojans/backdoors on networked PCs, and such.
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