What Is a Wi-Fi Pineapple and Can It Compromise Your Security?
The pineapple is one of the most contentious fruits around. It’s inclusion on pizza is either a culinary delight or a disgrace depending on your point of view. Now though there is another type of pineapple that may be able to compromise your security.
The Wi-Fi Pineapple is a device that more closely resembles a Wi-Fi Access Point than its namesake. The pocket-sized device was created for penetration testing, but can be re-purposed to perform malicious man-in-the-middle attacks. If a hacker unleashes the Wi-Fi Pineapple in a public place, even after taking steps to secure yourself, you could still be vulnerable.
What Is a Wi-Fi Pineapple?
The Wi-Fi Pineapple is a piece of hardware that was originally created for network penetration testing. Pen testing is an authorized attack of a system in order to find vulnerabilities. The practise is part of a larger branch of testing known as Ethical Hacking.
Traditional pen testing often requires the use of specialized software and operating systems like Kali Linux. However, the Wi-Fi Pineapple cuts down on the technical expertise needed to perform the tests. In fact, it is one of the most consumer-friendly testing devices. Packaged within one device and equipped with an attractive and easy-to-use UI, it simplifies the process enormously. It even has a companion app for Android that allows you to download the latest updates and perform the device setup.
The Pineapple acts as a hotspot honeypot to get unsuspecting users to connect to the device. Have you ever noticed that when you’ve left your phone’s Wi-Fi turned on, when you get home it automatically connects to your home network? The Pineapple exploits this autoconnect feature to trick devices into connecting. By using a network SSID that your phone recognizes, it intercepts the automatic connection as a man-in-the-middle attack.
Often the Pineapple is connected to the true Wi-Fi network so that you still get an internet connection and remain unaware. However, it can even be used to spoof Wi-Fi networks that the tester doesn’t have access to. This is done by using the target network SSID, and then using a USB modem or tethering to connect the Pineapple to the internet.
A Word About Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
A man-in-the-middle attack is when a malicious attacker inserts themselves between you and the internet. They are frequently compared to the eavesdropping attacks that were common place in a pre-digital era. A MITM attack is like someone listening into your communications with other websites. You may think that if you have nothing to hide then this is fairly harmless. However, they can be far more damaging than you imagine.
By sitting in between your connection, the attacker can view all the data that you intend to send over the internet. This can be especially dangerous if you intend to do online shopping or banking. If the website isn’t using HTTPS then all your data is unencrypted and viewable to the attacker. Even if the site is using HTTPS, the attacker could spoof the real website, offering you a fake one to collect your data. Or they could use a tool like SSLStrip to remove the HTTPS encryption.
A Controversial Fruit
The Wi-Fi Pineapple is particularly controversial as it puts some potentially very dangerous hacking techniques into the hands of potentially unskilled hackers. By making the device so easy to use, it makes it accessible to a larger group of malicious attackers. It is relatively inexpensive too at less than $100 for the Nano Basic. The device is easily available through the Hak5 website with worldwide shipping. You could even buy it on Amazon for a time, albeit at an inflated price.
Kent Lawson at Private WiFi labelled the Pineapple a “toy that has no legitimate use.” However, Hak5’s Darren Kitchen denies this is the case. He says that he sells the device mostly to governments and pen-testers. He also claims that the reason he developed the device was to raise awareness of Wi-Fi exploits and MITM attacks.
One of the potential uses for the Wi-Fi Pineapple is to use MITM to perform phishing attacks. By passing all your data through the Pineapple it is left vulnerable to theft and abuse. This includes passwords, emails, and any other confidential information. The attacker may not even be in the area as the Pineapple can be controlled remotely over the internet.
Although the Pineapple only accepts probes for the current Wi-Fi network, it is possible to force any device to connect. By modifying the hostapd binary, the device can be told to accept probes even for your home Wi-Fi network. This means that if you have any saved Wi-Fi networks, you are going to get drawn into the honeypot.
How to Protect Yourself
The Wi-Fi Pineapple makes for an almost invisible MITM attacker. You may think that this would make it almost impossible to protect yourself. However, there are a few ways to evade its sticky trap. Your first line of defence against should be to always use a VPN when using public Wi-Fi . By encrypting all your traffic with the VPN, you evade the Wi-Fi Pineapple’s data collection. Of course, there are many other good reasons you should be using a VPN too. To avoid the known network exploit, make sure you turn Wi-Fi off when you aren’t using it. This also prevents advertisers and other companies tracking you around the world .
The hacker may try to use phishing attacks to trick you into handing over confidential data.You can beat this attack by staying alert and checking for HTTPS . Just as important is to not ignore website certificate warnings as they are a sign that something is amiss. Supposing you do connect to a public Wi-Fi network without a VPN, avoid using sensitive websites like online stores or banking . If you tend to work remotely or travel frequently it may also be worth investing in your own mobile hotspot .
Wi-Fi Pineapple Pizza
Your view of the Wi-Fi Pineapple will likely be colored by what side of the debate you sit on. It’s usefulness as an ethical hacking tool may outweigh its possible nefarious use. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take steps to protect yourself.
Seeing someone sitting in a coffee shop with networking hardware would clearly raise some eyebrows. Unfortunately the hacker may not be that unsubtle. You can minimize your risk by making sure you use a VPN, especially on Wi-Fi networks. Staying alert to certificate warnings, or suspicious looking websites can also help you secure your data.
Had you heard of the Wi-Fi Pineapple before? Have you seen one in person? Ever been a victim of a MITM attack? Let us know in the comments below!
Image Credits: Foxy burrow/Shutterstock
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