Becoming the victim of a WiFi hack is surprisingly easy — in a 2021 study, Israeli security researchers were able to crack the passwords of roughly 70 percent of WiFi networks (Toulas, B. 2021). Moreover, a study by Forbes Advisor found that 43 percent of people reported that their online security had been compromised by network hackers while using public WiFi (Haan, K., 2023).
How do malicious actors hack WiFi? Was your WiFi hacked? How can you identify and prevent WiFi hacks? If you’re desperately searching for “how to protect your router from hackers,” this article is for you. Below, we’ll go over the different types of WiFi hacks, the signs that your WiFi was hacked, and how to prevent your WiFi from being hacked.
What Are WiFi Hacks?
A “WiFi hack” is any technique used to gain unauthorized access to a WiFi network. Typically, this is done by exploiting security flaws or vulnerabilities, allowing the attacker to steal confidential information or disrupt the network’s normal operations.
How Is WiFi Hacked? 10 Different Types of WiFi Hacks
How is WiFi hacked by an attacker? There are many different types of WiFi hacks, each presenting a unique threat to businesses and individuals. This section will cover ten kinds of WiFi hacks you should be aware of.
In a password-cracking WiFi hack, the attackers can guess or crack the password to gain access to the network. This is often done using automated brute-force tools or lists of credentials leaked due to a data breach.
Rogue Access Point
Attackers may set up a rogue access point: a fake wireless access point plugged into a legitimate WiFi network, creating a bypass or backdoor. This allows an attacker to intercept all the data that victims send and receive over the network, including sensitive data such as financial information and login credentials.
Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attack
In a MITM attack, malicious actors insert themselves between two devices communicating on a network. Each device believes it is talking to the other but is really talking to the attacker, who may capture or manipulate the exchanged information.
Evil Twin Attack
An evil twin WiFi hack is similar to a rogue access point but with a crucial point of distinction. In a rogue access point attack, the access point is illegitimately plugged into a real network. In an evil twin attack, however, the fake access point is intended to look like a convincing replica of a real network.
In a packet sniffing WiFi hack, attackers remain hidden using tools such as Wireshark to intercept and analyze the data packets sent back and forth over a WiFi network. These packets may contain sensitive information that the attackers can later exploit.
Wireless jamming attacks involve sending a signal (such as white noise) on the same frequency as the WiFi network, trying to disrupt its operations by causing interference. These attacks can result in slower network speeds or even bring down the network entirely.
In a MAC spoofing WiFi hack, the attacker changes their device’s Media Access Control (MAC) address to a legitimate device on the network. This may allow the attacker to access the network without needing login credentials.
Denial of Service (DoS) Attack
A denial of service (DoS) attack involves maliciously flooding a network with illegitimate traffic to disrupt its normal operations. For example, attackers might send the network malformed data packets or extremely high volumes of connection requests.
Hackers may exploit a WiFi router’s Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) feature by brute-force guessing the WPS number. The WPS PIN lets devices connect to the network without needing login credentials.
Last but not least, a physical access WiFi hack involves an attacker who gains physical access to the network router. This allows the attacker to reconfigure the router’s settings or even damage the router to bring down the network.
Was Your WiFi Hacked? 6 Signs Someone Hacked Your Router
If you’re worried about WiFi and router hacks, the good news is that they can often be detected and fixed. Below are 6 of the most significant signs that your WiFi router has been hacked:
- Performance issues: If your WiFi network suddenly suffers from slow Internet speeds, this could indicate that attackers have gained access and are using the network for their own purposes (e.g., operating botnets or distributing malware).
- High data usage: Similarly, if data consumption on your WiFi network is higher than usual or greater than expected, this might be a sign that unwelcome guests have hijacked your router.
- Trouble logging in: If you cannot log into your router’s administrative control with your usual username and password, the credentials might have been changed by an attacker.
- Unknown devices: The presence of unknown or suspicious devices on your WiFi network strongly indicates that your router’s defenses have been compromised to let in the attacker.
- Unexpected network activity: If your WiFi network is behaving strangely (e.g., your browser always redirects to the same page), the router settings may have been changed by an attacker.
- Strange messages: Last but not least, if your browser or devices display strange pop-ups or notifications (such as ransomware messages or advertisements), it could be a sign that the WiFi network is compromised.
How to Prevent Your WiFi from Being Hacked
While it’s good to recognize the signs of a WiFi hack, it’s even better to stop it in its tracks. Below are some tips for how to block WiFi hackers:
- Change your password: Many WiFi networks are easily hacked because administrators fail to change the default username and/or password. Choose a secure password and change it at regular intervals.
- Use encryption: WiFi networks should use strong encryption algorithms such as WPA2 or WPA3. Avoid using the WEP protocol, which is older and considered less secure.
- Keep router firmware up-to-date: Router firmware can suffer from security vulnerabilities if not updated regularly. Check for new upgrades to your router software and install them as soon as possible.
- Disable security settings: Network features such as WPS and remote management have their uses, but they can also leave you vulnerable to attackers. Without a good reason, these features should be disabled.
WiFi Hacked? Here’s What to Do
Was your WiFi hacked by an attacker? If you believe that you’ve been the victim of a WiFi hack, follow the tips and best practices below:
- Change the credentials: As soon as possible, you should change the administrator credentials for your WiFi router, including the username and password. Your choice of password should be memorable while still being difficult to guess for an attacker. This will prevent malicious actors from being able to log in with the old credentials.
- Reboot the router: In some cases, rebooting or resetting the router can clear out any malicious software and help you determine the extent of the hack. To reboot the router, simply hold down the device’s reset button until it shuts down, then power it back up. This will also require you to reconfigure the router settings once it restarts.
- Upgrade the firmware: If attackers exploit an existing flaw in the router’s firmware, installing the latest updates may automatically patch this vulnerability. This can be done within your router’s dashboard page. Moving forward, checking for new router updates at least every three months is a good idea.
Preventing WiFi Hacks With C|EH
WiFi hacks are a significant risk for organizations of all sizes and industries. With the right skills and knowledge, however, businesses can detect WiFi router hacks and even prevent WiFi networks from being hacked in the first place.
In particular, relying on the expertise of ethical hackers (also known as “white-hat hackers”) can prove invaluable. Ethical hackers can launch simulated attacks on WiFi networks, probing them for vulnerabilities and helping businesses resolve any security flaws before a real attacker can exploit them. Master Ethical hacker skills by learning from a Ethical Hacking course.
EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH) program gives students the right combination of theoretical knowledge and practical tools to jumpstart their careers in cybersecurity. The C|EH certification is a certified ethical hacker course that covers 20 modules and provides hands-on instruction in more than 220 lab assignments.
Ready to learn how EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker program can help strengthen your cybersecurity skills? Learn more about EC-Council’s ethical hacking certification today. Enroll to CEH course now.
Toulas, B. (2021, October 26). Bleeping Computer. Researcher cracked 70% of WiFi networks sampled in Tel Aviv. https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/researcher-cracked-70-percent-of-wifi-networks-sampled-in-tel-aviv/
Haan, K. (2023, February 9). The Real Risks Of Public Wi-Fi: Key Statistics And Usage Data. (2023). https://www.forbes.com/advisor/business/public-wifi-risks/
About the Author
David Tidmarsh is a programmer and writer. He’s worked as a software developer at MIT, has a B.A. in history from Yale, and is currently a graduate student in computer science at UT Austin.