Almost a third of the world's encrypted Web connections can be cracked using an exploit that's growing increasingly practical, computer scientists warned Wednesday. They said the attack technique on a cryptographic cipher known as RC4 can also be used to break into wireless networks protected by the Wi-Fi Protected Access Temporal Key Integrity Protocol.
Researchers have long known statistical biases in RC4 make it possible for attackers to predict some of the pseudo-random bytes the cipher uses to encode messages. In 2013, a team of scientists devised an attack exploiting the weakness that required about 2,000 hours to correctly guess the characters contained in a typical authentication cookie. Using refinements, a separate team of researchers is now able to carry out the same feat in about 75 hours with a 94 percent accuracy. A similar attack against WPA-TKIP networks takes about an hour to succeed. The researchers said the only reliable countermeasure is to stop using RC4 altogether.
"Our work significantly reduces the execution time of performing an attack, and we consider this improvement very worrisome," the researchers wrote in a blog post. "Considering there are still biases which are unused, that more efficient algorithms can be implemented, and better traffic generation techniques can be explored, we expect further improvements in the future."