One of the most dangerous things about WiFi Pineapples is that they put advanced hacking techniques into the hands of anyone for just a mere $100. This means that anyone, even those with limited tech knowledge, can launch sophisticated attacks.
Protecting yourself against these attacks can be tricky. This is because the technology that WiFi relies on is inherently flawed. Despite new security protocols being launched every few years, most WiFi setups remain vulnerable to a range of WiFi threats, especially those launched via a WiFi Pineapple.
But fear not. After reading this guide you’ll be an expert on Pineapples (or at least the WiFi kind), and also know how to protect yourself against them.
Like many pieces of equipment that modern-day hackers use, the WiFi Pineapple was developed for legitimate purposes.
WiFi Pineapples were developed for a practice known as ‘Penetration Testing’, also known as pen testing. A pen test is an authorized attack of a system: typically, a company will hire a pen tester to launch a hack on their systems in order to assess its strength and identify any vulnerabilities. Pen testing is part of a larger branch of testing commonly known as ethical hacking.
A WiFi Pineapple is an important part of a pen tester’s kit. It looks and works just like a standard WiFi router, albeit with greater range. In pen testing, the Pineapple will take advantage of the inherent weakness of WiFi networks to get users to connect to the Pineapple’s signal, rather than a legitimate network.
Most WiFi Pineapples also come with a set of software tools that a pen tester can use through their laptop, or even on an Android device. These tools are able to scan network traffic, snoop on users connected to WiFi networks, and identify weak spots in security protocols.
During a pen test, all of this is done with the permission of the company being ‘attacked’. Unsurprisingly, however, it did not take long for hackers to start using the same techniques to attack users and companies without being asked to. As a result, WiFi Pineapples are now commonly seen in many types of illegal attacks.
A WiFi Pineapple, whether being used in a legitimate pen test or an illegal malicious attack, works by taking advantage of an inherent flaw in the way that WiFi networks function.
The Pineapple will act as a router for a WiFi network that looks just like a legitimate one. Unlike the ‘real’ network, though, this ‘fake’ one is completely controlled by the attacker. If anyone connects to it, they are opening themselves up to attack, because the information they send over the network can be seen, read, and even altered by the attacker.
This is possible because of a problem with the way that your devices interact with WiFi networks. When a standard device connects to a WiFi network, it actually knows very little about the network it is connecting to. Unless you have installed a network sniffer, or other pieces of software that the average user is not likely to have, the only information your device sees is the ‘name’ of the network (or, more properly, the SSID).
This means that devices can be easily confused by networks that are called the same thing.
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A typical WiFi Pineapple attack works in the same way. By projecting a fake WiFi network over a large area, some users will inevitably connect to the wrong network, and an attacker will harvest their data.
It gets worse. You might think that the encryption that WiFi networks use (WEP, WPA, or WPA2, for example) would protect you against your data being read, even if you make a mistake and connect to a WiFi Pineapple. Truth is, it won’t.
This is because WiFi security protocols have another huge flaw. Though the encryption used by WPA2 is pretty good, it only starts once you have authenticated and connected to a router (or, more properly, an access point). Stupid, right? Right.
Most WiFi Pineapple attacks operate through some variant on the man in the middle attack. An attacker will set up a fake WiFi network, then flood the legitimate network with deauthentication packets that will kick users off of the real network. Users will then connect to the malicious network, thinking it is the trusted one.
At this point, a variety of attacks can be launched. A hacker might use a phishing scam to encourage victims to enter sensitive or confidential information into a fake website. They might wait for users to login to their internet banking system or social media accounts, and then use session hijacking to impersonate them. Or they might just gather information to be sold or used to blackmail their victims.
These are pretty standard types of attack that have been around for years. The thing that makes WiFi Pineapples dangerous, though, is that they allow almost anyone to launch sophisticated hacks. The software that comes bundled with a WiFi Pineapple makes it easy to deploy these techniques.
WiFi Pineapples are also relatively inexpensive. You can get a Nano Basic, a popular model of WiFi Pineapple, for less than $100.
Protecting yourself against WiFi Pineapple attacks relies on two factors. One is the way you behave online. The other is the technical protections you have in place to avoid your data being intercepted and stolen.
Protecting against any form of cyber attack, including those deployed via a WiFi Pineapple, requires knowledge and vigilance. You should be aware of the WiFi network you are connected to at all times, and should be able to spot vulnerable or suspicious networks. If, for instance, a new unsecured network suddenly appears, especially one that shares the name of a network you trust, DO NOT connect to it.
Similarly, never send personal information over unsecured WiFi networks, or login to your social media accounts. Unless, that is, you want this information to be available to everyone connected to the same network.
Because WiFi Pineapple attacks exploit some inherent flaws in the way that WiFi networks operate, they can be really hard to detect even for experienced users. It’s therefore also a good idea to protect yourself using a higher level of encryption than that used by even secure WiFi networks.
The best way to do that is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The best VPNs use end-to-end encryption which means no one can decipher the data you exchange with a network. Even if you accidentally connect to a WiFi Pineapple, an attacker will not be able to read your data, or launch further attacks.
It’s amazing, really, that WiFi Pineapples are still available to buy. The tools they offer are undoubtedly useful for professional pen testers and security experts, but allowing everyone to play with them is probably not the best idea.
Sadly, the threat posed by these devices is unlikely to diminish anytime soon. The best response is therefore to protect yourself. If you’ve read this far, congratulations: you’ve taken the first step.
Finally, please use a VPN. Given how common WiFi Pineapple attacks are, and the potentially disastrous consequences of them, only a fool would leave their connection unencrypted.
Next, make sure you know how to spot a WiFi Pineapple attack in progress. Then take a look at our other guides to ensure you can spot other types of attack.