A WiFi Pineapple is a small piece of equipment with a silly name and a lot of power. Some people use this tool for a legitimate security purpose. Others use it for hacking.
Whether you work in security or are concerned about the safety of your own data, it pays to know what a Pineapple router is. Chances are, you'll encounter it at least once during your lifetime.
What Is a WiFi Pineapple?
The size and shape of this device give the WiFi Pineapple its name. It's a small, black device with several spikes. Developers thought it looked a bit like tropical fruit, so they named it accordingly.
The WiFi Pineapple was developed by Hak5, a private company. For about $100, you can purchase one for yourself or your company. And you're not required to disclose what you'd like to use it for.
Hak5 is known for creating testing tools. When the WiFi Pineapple was released in 2008, most people assumed testers would find it useful and everyone else would ignore it. The reality is a bit different.
How a WiFi Pineapple Works
< Open a WiFi channel on your computer, and the device will make a connection to an available router. A WiFi Pineapple is positioned between the device and the router, and with the proper programming, it can inspect all the data as it moves from one location to another.
Setting up a WiFi Pineapple isn't always easy. Bloggers who detail their work create posts that take up dozens of screens. But when the work is done, you'll be able to look over all the traffic moving to and from a device and a WiFi router.
The device makes use of the underlying technology in any WiFi system. When you connect to a WiFi, your device remembers the service set identifier (SSI) of that router. When you're in the same location, your device seeks out a router with the right SSI.
A WiFi Pineapple imitates the proper SSI, and that means anyone preprogrammed to connect will link with the Pineapple router instead.
Legitimate Uses of a Pineapple Router
Computer security experts must understand how their systems work, where they are breaking, and why they might be vulnerable to an attack. A Pineapple WiFi router makes that work much easier.
During a penetration test (or pentest), experts attempt to hack a system, and they document their work for fixes and corrections. Typically, a pentest requires specialized software and operating systems. But a WiFi Pineapple makes it really easy.
A security analyst might set up a Pineapple WiFi and then:
- Look for hookups. Do people from your company attach to it automatically rather than using your authorized WiFi?
- Watch for disclosures. During a man-in-the-middle attack, a hacker watches all the data that passes between a device and a server. A WiFi Pineapple mimics this approach. How much would an attacker see?
- Seek out access. Can a hacker who sets up a man-in-the-middle attack gain further access to your system?
- Watch for alarms. Do your automated systems catch the intruder? How long does it take?
WiFi Pineapple software makes monitoring easy. You'll get email alerts throughout the simulated attack, and you can even tag interesting devices and follow them after they've been tapped by the program.
Someone using a WiFi Pineapple emerges with a significant amount of data about how the system works and what should be fixed.
Hackers Use Pineapple WiFi Too
Just as security experts can launch man-in-the-middle attacks, so can hackers. The technology works in the same way.
A hacker might take over the SSI of a well-known WiFi router, such as one located inside of a college campus. An attack might look like this:
- Select victims. Anyone who has attached to the server before is a target.
- Set up the attack. Using the WiFi Pineapple, the hacker spoofs the SSI of the intended server.
- Connect. A student comes within range of the spoofed router and connects.
- Attack. The hacker can now see everything that moves from the device to the server and back.
A quick search brings up plenty of step-by-step instructions hackers can follow to craft code. All they need are willing victims.
Unfortunately, many people are willing to connect with WiFi resources that seem free and readily available. They may push past security warnings and decline commonsense steps so they can hop online and complete their tasks.
A hacker even launched an attack like this at a conference for hackers, proving that it's almost irresistible for some people.
But some devices now come with sophisticated warning systems, and some don't allow connections with devices that don't seem secure or legitimate. Some hackers believe the WiFi Pineapple heyday is over, as taking control is more difficult now than it once was.
But if a hacker can execute an attack like this, they can gain access to critical information, such as these:
- Social Security numbers
- Bank account numbers
Protecting Against Wireless Pineapple Attacks
Hackers are clever, and they use all sorts of tips and tricks to gain access into assets they have no business touching.
Commonsense protection steps involve:
- Avoiding public WiFi. Don't connect to any device you don't own. Rely on your cell service instead.
- Turning off WiFi when you leave your house. Don't allow your device to scan for SSIDs as you move from location to location. Snap off the functionality when you're on the go.
- Leaning on a VPN. Virtual private networks (or VPNs) encrypt your data as it moves through the internet. Even if you're connected via a WiFi Pineapple, your data will be protected.
We can help too. Contact us to learn how Okta can help keep your data and users safe from network attacks and vulnerabilities.
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How a WiFi Pineapple Can Steal Your Data (And How to Protect Yourself From It). (November 2017). Vice.
The Beginner's Guide to Breaking Website Security With Nothing More Than a Pineapple. (April 2013). Troy Hunt.
What Is a WiFi Pineapple and Can It Compromise Your Security? (June 2017). Make Use Of.
The WiFi Pineapple Software. WiFi Pineapple.
Man in the Middle With WiFi Pineapple. (April 2018). Sean Wright.
What Is a WiFi Pineapple, and Can It Compromise Your Security? (August 2019). Android Headlines.
Hacker Hunts and pwns WiFi Pineapple Zero-Day at Def Con. (August 2014). CSO.
Is WiFi Pineapple Still Worth the Price? (2017). Reddit.