Hey kid, wanna hack some Wi-Fi?
This article is your 100% lactose-free guide to hacking home Wi-Fi. By the end it’s okay to feel afraid, insecure, or even the urge to bulk-purchase home networking equipment. It’s okay. We’ve all been there.
Isn’t is strange how when you move into a place and get an internet connection, you typically get given a home router as part of the package? Isn’t it strange how this router is held together using nothing but matchsticks, broken promises, and man’s hubris?
Did you know that anyone nearby can kick you off a Wi-Fi network?
Yeah it’s all pretty broken hey?
Below are the steps for breaking it more.
Step 0: Don’t actually do this
I’m using “your neighbour” as an easy-to-remember example here.
You might be having what seems like a genius idea, and that’s “wowee I should hack my neighbour’s wifi because uhhhhhh”. This idea is a bad one, in the same way that trying to break into your neighbour’s house is a bad idea.
If you want to actually hack some Wi-Fi, try disconnecting and doing this to your own Wi-Fi.
Step 1: Find the right Wi-Fi
So in our 99.99999% theoretical scenario, you and your laptop are within range of your neighbour’s Wi-Fi router. You don’t know the password, but you want to connect. Time to do some crimes.
The first thing you’d do is take out your laptop and run airodump-ng, a tool for precisely the job of hacking Wi-Fi.
Here’s what it looks like.
You see the names of nearby Wi-Fi networks and also their “BSSID”, which is a bit like an ID for Wi-Fi networks. It’s actually exactly like that.
Step 2: Get the password hash
Once you know the BSSID of your neighbour’s Wi-Fi, the goal is to get the Wi-Fi password. The router won’t tell you the Wi-Fi password, but it will give up the password hash1.
A password hash is like a scrambled version of the password. You can’t unscramble it. Kinda like how you can’t unscramble scrambled eggs back into the white and the yolk.
We’re going to find the hash by watching……the secret handshake.
The secret handshake
You heard me.
“is that real”
You might be wondering why there’s a secret handshake happening every time you connect to Wi-Fi, and that’s fair enough, I’m glad you asked.
Let’s say you’re a legitimate businessperson just connecting to your home Wi-Fi. No funny business. You know the password. But you need to prove to the Wi-Fi that you know the password. And the Wi-Fi needs to prove to you that it knows the password. The trouble is, everyone else can hear you.
Wi-Fi is broadcast as radio waves out of your device and router all the time. Anyone within range can hear what you’re saying.
It’s kinda like if you came up to me at a party and you said “I know your Facebook password”. It gets real tense. I nervously glance up at you and say “Really?”. I want to know if you really do know my Facebook password, but I also don’t want you to just say “Your Facebook password is cooldude69” because everyone else at the party is listening.
So, the secret handshake lets you and the Wi-Fi router both prove you know the password without saying it.
The trick is that by spying on the handshake, an eavesdropper (that’s us) could see:
- A randomly chosen bit of text (e.g.
- The same text, encrypted with the Wi-Fi password as the key (
You know the text, you know what it encrypts to, and you know how to do the encryption. The only thing you don’t know is what the key is. This means that you can guess something as the key, and check if your guess was right.
We see “3b53f” encrypts to “b8%&G”
Try encrypting “3b53f” with key “password1” -> “AAERJ” // Wrong!
Try encrypting “3b53f” with key “cooldad1964” -> “b8%&G” // Found it!
What if you just encrypt the text
cooldad1964 as the key, and it happens to encrypt to
Then you know that the password was
cooldad1964. And if
3b5ef encrypts to something else, then you know your guess was wrong.
Step 3: Crack the password
So using the trick above, we’re going to just guess the password. The trick is that we’re going to be able to guess passwords way faster than if we were just typing them into the “Enter the password for this Wi-Fi network” box.
So, get out your pen and paper and blow the dust off that compass and straightedge because it’s time to do some encryption.
Just kidding, we’re not going to use pen and paper you big bozo. We’re going to use a graphics card.
Graphics cards are the part inside a computer that lets the computer be able to play 3D games such as PLAYERUNKNOWN’S ALLCAPS Murder Paradise and Viva Piñata: Party Animals. They also happen to be really fast at encrypting stuff.
So we’re going to get a big list of millions of passwords, and try them all to try and guess the Wi-Fi password.
Alright so you know how websites get hacked?
Sometimes, the hackers release the passwords of everyone on the website at the time it got hacked. You may have heard of these as “data breaches”. Sites that got hacked recently and had passwords publicly exposed include LinkedIn, Adobe, and Myspace.
You, a person with an internet connection, can find these lists via Google. No dark web, no getting behind 7 proxies and insisting that your parents only call you by your “code name”, no nothing.
There are two kinds of home Wi-Fi networks: The kind that are called
NETGEAR-7BDFC, which probably have randomly generated passwords, and the kind that are called
Chris & Liz 2013, with passwords that are in these password lists.
I’m going to guess that your neighbour’s password is probably in one of the heaps big lists of passwords. But to find out which one it is, we’re going to have to encrypt
3b5ef (in this example) with every single password in the list as the encryption key2, and see if any of them match what we saw the Wi-Fi password encrypt to (
(If your neighbour has one of those randomly generated passwords, then you’re out of luck. JUST kidding click here for a fun time.)
Now that you’ve “acquired” these password lists, you gotta figure out which password is the Wi-Fi password.
Rapid-fire password guessing
Hashcat is software that can take a password list and a hash3 (“b8%&G”) and try to “unhash” it by comparing it to all the passwords in the list. To give you an estimate of how long this takes, my computer can check 10 million passwords in about 10 minutes. Specialised computers overflowing with graphics cards can do this in seconds.
You just plug the file containing the handshake that you got in Step 2 into hashcat, as well as your password lists.
And that’s it. Hashcat will likely just spit out the password, and you can just type it in the Wi-Fi “Enter the password” box. The main part is furiously guessing millions of passwords until we find the right one.
Why does this work?
Because people pick easy-to-guess passwords. English word with the first letter maybe capitalised then one or two numbers? That pattern covers a lot of people’s passwords and a computer can just quickly check all of them.
If you’re an average internet user, your password for everything is the same, and it’s your pet’s name followed by your house number. Even worse, it’s probably a password hackers already have in their password lists. What I’m saying is that on average, most Wi-Fi passwords people choose don’t stand a chance against these password lists.
You can check whether your password has been stolen by hackers (and published) by browsing to https://haveibeenpwned.com
So you can probably hack home Wi-Fi. What’s the point of doing it?
Finding your neighbour’s ISP password
Routers often store the password used to connect to the ISP in their admin pages.
This password would let you prove that you are your neighbour when talking to their ISP. You can cancel their internet all together. You can see their billing information. You are them.
Let me walk you through the complex process of hacking a home router.
First you open up the popular hacking software, Google Chrome, and go to 192.168.0.1, which is usually the IP address of the router.
When you get there, you’ll see something like this.
admin/admin of your LIFE right there.
Once you’re in the router, the password is in the config page.
Oh no! The password is just dots! Your hacking career is over before it started!
Fear not, young keyboard warlock, for there is a deus ex machina that saves you in this cutscene.
Right Click > Inspect Element (hacker voice: i’m in) on the password field, and you’ll see this:
Edit that HTML to remove the
That’s right, the dots were only put there by your browser. The password was under them all along. You were trapped in a prison of your own mind.
Steal your neighbour’s data
So this one isn’t as cool as it used to be, but using ancient forbidden techniques like ARP poisoning (not nearly as cool as it sounds), you can spy on what your neighbour is sending to the internet.
This won’t work for websites with that lovingly hand-forged green HTTPS lock, since your neighbour’s data will be encrypted. But, there are still plenty of sites that will ask for your password or credit card information over plain ol’ HTTP.
Even for some HTTPS sites (which do not use Certificate Pinning or HSTS or other Dark Rituals), you can force your victim to use plain unencrypted HTTP with SSLStrip.
It’s possible that reading the words on this hypertext page has made you question the bulletproof security of your own home network situation.
Here are some things you can do to stop worrying about your home Wi-Fi security.
1. Absolutely nothing
Don’t even worry about it. The pool of people who can attack your home Wi-Fi is limited to the people in physical range of it.
A website like PayPal is attackable by:
- anyone with a computer
Your home Wi-Fi is attackable by:
- anyone nearby your house
What I’m saying here is that the chance of someone with skills and motivation to hack your Wi-Fi actually doing it is….really small. Probably your neighbours are just that nice family and that one guy who always leaves his beer bottles in your recycling bin.
Anyway that guy’s not gonna hack your Wi-Fi. This is why it’s not a total catastrophe that most people’s Wi-Fi security isn’t very good.
You might leave a spare key under the mat, or not bother to lock your windows even though someone could easily climb through them, because you’re not worried about someone physically breaking in. In the same way, your house probably doesn’t need extra-strong Wi-Fi security.
So don’t worry about it! Go to the beach! Work all day to make a rich dude slightly richer! He might thank you, but probably not! Eat a cupcake! Your Wi-Fi security probably isn’t worth worrying about.
2. Enable Paranoia Mode
“Wait what if there IS someone trying to hack my home Wi-Fi, like my local government or perhaps a particularly intelligent bird?”
I mean the government has far easier ways to spy on you, but if you really want to tighten up your Wi-Fi security, you can:
Use WPA2-PSK, and change the Wi-Fi password to something unguessable but easy to share (for your guests, of course). Good examples include
gday$one$internet$please. Or randomly generate one like
[email protected]&*3Wjif you hate your guests and love typing.
Install custom router firmware like DD-WRT. This has far fewer security holes than whatever 1997 PHP spaghetti your router came with.
“Wait so have you ever actually used this?”
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog post.
Big ol’ thanks to these heroes for their large brains which showed me how to do words more good.
If you want to talk to me about this, @ me on Twitter I guess.
WARNING this is a simplification (read: wrong), there’s actually a chain of keys computed from the actual Wi-Fi password. It boils down to the above idea, tho, sorry for tricking you I’m just protecting you from the harsh truth, son. If you want the real deal and aren’t afraid of death by acronyms check out this stackoverflow answer. ↩
Again, this is a simplification for readability. ↩
Okay look this isn’t really a hash and “hashed” and “encrypted” are used pretty much interchangably in this article which I know is wrong and really upsets a lot of pedantic people on Twitter but boy does it make this post easier to understand for people who are still learning anyway thanks for reading and as always do not @ me ↩