Drones and attackers could target you through walls thanks to Wi-Fi security flaws

The University of Waterloo (UOW) in Canada has built a drone that uses a common security weakness to identify Wi-Fi networks inside buildings, sparking concerns that such devices may be exploited for criminal purposes.

Dr. Ali Abedi, an adjunct professor of computer science at UOW, and Dr. Deepak Vasisht, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, wrote a paper titled “Non-cooperative wi-fi localization & its privacy implications,” which was cited in a press release issued by the university.

The Wi-Peep exploits a well-known weakness in “nice WiFi” to transmit messages to nearby connected devices as it flies and pinpoint their locations to within a metre. Putting aside the expense of a drone, the gadget apparently just requires twenty dollars’ worth of components, making it accessible to would-be burglars.

Positive effects of polite WiFi

Polite WiFi implies that even if a connection is password-protected and denied, smart gadgets will still respond to connection requests. The Wi-Peep can follow devices so precisely because it constantly sends contact messages to everything within range.

Abedi put the danger posed by such devices to home security and beyond into context in a statement.

“Using similar technology, one could track the movements of security guards inside a bank by following the location of their phones or smartwatches,” he said.

“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 break-in.”

“In addition, the device’s operation via drone means that it can be used quickly and remotely without much chance of the user being detected.”

After the discovery of the Polite Wi-Fi flaw, the Wi-Peep was put together to verify the viability of such assaults. Abedi called for a comprehensive remedy “so that our gadgets do not respond to outsiders” in his remarks.

He said that until then, producers of Wi-Fi chips may implement randomized response times to reduce the precision with which devices like the Wi-Peep broadcast their locations.

Before any patch is released, companies and homeowners should be concerned about the explosion of IoT devices and the widely held belief that internet connectivity improves the functionality of every modern appliance, from automobiles to refrigerators to grills.