AirMagnet Wi-Fi security tool takes aim at drones

It can identify a Parrot AR Drone nearby to help narrow down the search for the rogue APs

In its quest to help enterprises seek out and neutralize all threats to their Wi-Fi networks, AirMagnet is now looking to the skies.

In a free software update to its AirMagnet Enterprise product last week, the Wi-Fi security division of Fluke Networks added code specifically crafted to detect the Parrot AR Drone, a popular unmanned aerial vehicle that costs a few hundred dollars and can be controlled using a smartphone or tablet.

Drones themselves don't pose any special threat to Wi-Fi networks, and AirMagnet isn't issuing air pistols to its customers to shoot them down. The reason the craft are dangerous is that they can be modified to act as rogue APs (access points) and sent into range of a victim's wireless network, potentially breaking into a network to steal data, according to Greg Rayburn, a security analyst at AirMagnet.

"These things are really just flying access points," Rayburn said. If a network isn't protected, a rogue access point can be used to break into it and steal any type of data that's going over the airwaves.

AirMagnet could already identify drone-based rogue APs without the new tool and automatically block them from communicating with the customer's Wi-Fi controller. But most IT administrators want AirMagnet to alert them to a threat so they can hunt it down themselves, Rayburn said. Enterprises want to know about dangerous gear nearby or determine whether the problem is just radio interference from an innocent neighbor's AP.

The update allows AirMagnet to identify the telltale signs of an AR Drone so it can alert the administrator to look out for one when searching for the threat, Rayburn said. "Now I've got a bit more of a direction I need to go," he said.

To detect an AR Drone nearby, AirMagnet looks for specific types of MAC addresses, directional commands to the drone from a mobile device, and certain kinds of video-streaming traffic that are specific to that craft, Rayburn said.

Customers aren't reporting a rash of drone attacks, at least not yet, he said. But there have been reports of drone APs that can turn Wi-Fi networks into botnets or spoof public hotspots and steal users' data.

AirMagnet is distributing the new software via its Dynamic Threat Update feature, which can automatically upload new code to a customer's AirMagnet installation every night.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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