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Should you panic about the new Wi-Fi hack attack?

Wi-Fi hack attack
Don't panic Mr Mainwaring! But do update your devices...

Do you need to panic about the new Wi-Fi hack attack? Simple answer: no. Although you do need to panic about sensationalist headline writers who declare that ALL WI-FI NETWORKS HAVE BEEN HACKED!

Here’s what has actually happened. A security researcher has discovered that the most popular way to encrypt wireless networks – called WPA2 – is susceptible to attack. Previously, it was thought to be very difficult to break, so that’s a major downgrade to its unblemished security status.

However, it’s important to note that it’s your device that the attacker is targeting, not your wireless network as a whole. My recommendations on how to stay safe focus on the devices, not hidden settings in your network.

Wi-Fi hack attack: how does it work?

Say you’re sitting in your living room hooked up to your Wi-Fi. The key to this Wi-Fi hack is that the attacker could duplicate your network and force your device to connect to it. (If you want more technical details on how it works, visit the researcher’s website.)

The “proof of concept” attack is shown using a phone running Android 6, but the author of the report found flaws in Windows, iOS, Linux and macOS and other operating systems. That’s one of the scary things about this attack.

But there are two key caveats.

First, the attacker needs to be physically close to you. This isn’t something that can be done over the internet.

Second, there has been a quick reaction from across the industry to update software. If you follow the usual advice about keeping your hardware and software up to date, you’re likely to be fine. For instance, Microsoft released a security update yesterday, when the vulnerability was announced.

Wi-Fi hack attack: what should you do?

First, don’t panic. This attack doesn’t reveal your Wi-Fi password, so there’s no need for you to change that.

Instead, focus on making sure you have all your devices – your phone, your laptop and pretty much anything that connects over your Wi-Fi network – up to date.

While it’s good practice to keep your router’s firmware up to date, it isn’t the router itself that’s going to be attacked, so there’s no desperate rush here. If you don’t feel comfortable updating firmware yourself, invite a friendly techie round for a meal and casually drop in the need to check for the latest update after the second glass of brandy.

It should be noted that many devices may never receive a security update. But like being burgled, the chances of you falling victim to this attack remain vanishingly small.

Read next: Why does my BT Smart Hub keep disconnecting?

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis.

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