By using this Wifi “gap”, burglars can see through walls

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In a recent scientific publication, researchers from the University of Waterloo, Canada, alert to the existence of a loophole in WiFi networks that could be used by burglars to “see through walls” to identify the location of connected objects, as well as security devices, such as cameras.

No need for passwords to estimate the distance of an object

Even when a Wi-Fi network is password protected, devices respond to connection attempts. And it is this interaction that researchers at the University of Waterloo have exploited to create a device, which they have named Wi-Peep, in order to locate the locations of connected objects inside a building.

The detection device is attached to a drone and sends several “messages” to connected devices. Then, the distances are calculated according to the response time to these messages.

Wi-Peep

Professor Ali Abedi, testing Wi-Peep. Attached to a drone, the device is able to pinpoint the location of connected devices through walls. © University of Waterloo

A cheap device, if you have the expertise

“Using similar technology, one could track the movements of security guards inside a bank by tracking the location of their phones or smartwatches. Likewise, a thief could identify the location and type of smart devices in a home, including security cameras, laptops, and smart TVs, to find a good candidate for a breach.”says Dr Ali Abedi, an assistant professor of computer science at Waterloo.

And the fact that the connected device detection device can be attached to a drone means that criminals could carry out their reconnaissance operations with relative stealth.

The university recognizes that previous scientific studies have already looked at the shortcomings of WiFi networks. However, these previous studies, with a similar goal, had been carried out using large and expensive devices.

However, what the Waterloo researchers used was inexpensive equipment (about twenty euros) as well as a commercially available drone. After carrying out their tests, these researchers realized that with the right expertise, a similar device could be produced by malicious people.

What solutions?

They call this shortcoming the “Polite Wifi” or the “Wifi polite”. And according to Ali Abedi, as soon as this loophole was discovered, it was obvious that this kind of attack would be possible.

For him, the solution would be to modify the current standards. And the researchers hope that their work can influence the development of the next versions of Wifi.

In the meantime, Ali Abedi believes there is an urgent need for device manufacturers to make changes to their devices, by artificially creating random variations on the response times of connected devices, so that it is no longer possible to exploit these response times to locate objects.

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