According to new research from the University of Erlangen in Germany, iPhones that are being used as a Wi-Fi hotspot are open to attack from hackers due to lax security protocols in the automatic password generation system.
A team from the university say that passwords automatically created for the hotspot are simple to crack, consisting of four to six characters followed by a four-digit string of numbers.
The team, who include Andreas Kurtz, Felix Freiling and Daniel Metz, revealed their findings in a paper entitled, “Usability vs Security: The Everlasting Trade-Off in the Context of Apple iOS Mobile Hotspots”.
They tested their theories by downloading a 52,500-word dictionary and by adding number-generating code, they managed to crack the iOS password system every time. They used an AMD Radeon HD 6990 GPU, allowing them to crack the system in 59 minutes.
The team reverse-engineered the iOS word list used for password generation and found that Apple uses English language words of between four and six letters from a dictionary copyrighted by Lernout and Hauspie Speech Products.
“Only 1,842 different entries of that dictionary are taken into consideration,” the paper states. “Consequently, any default password used within an arbitrary iOS mobile hotspot, is based on one of these 1,842 different words. This fact reduced the search space of our initial brute force attack by more than 96% and thus increased the overall cracking speed significantly.”
It was also found that certain words were used up to ten times the frequency they should have been compared to normal random pick conditions and so by frontloading these words into an attack code, they could crack the system even quicker. By upgrading their hardware to four AMD Radeon HD 7970 units, the team were able to get the search time down to 24 seconds.
The researches noted that although the tests were carries out using an Apple device, other mobile operating systems were not immune. They concluded by saying,”The results of our analysis have shown that the mobile hotspot feature of smart devices increases the attack surface in several ways.”
“As the default password of an arbitrary iOS hotspot user can be revealed within seconds, attacks on mobile hotspots might have been underestimated in the past and might be an attractive target in the future.”
The advice from these researchers is, to protect yourself from such attacks, specify your own password.
[Image via oldentech]