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Blog Post, Sonar

What Is WiGLE and Why Is It Important to Your Network Security?

Oct 15, 2020

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No, we’re not talking about gelatin snacks or dancing at home. WiGLE refers to the Wireless Geographic Logging Engine, and is accessible from https://wigle.net. It's essentially a global database that maps out the geographic location of hundreds of millions of wireless access points.

WiGLE Example Boston

WiGLE search of Boston, MA

Before a hacker begins to attack a wireless network, they must first do research to make sure they’re targeting the right network. If the attacker lives in the same neighborhood as their victim their recon stage is a little easier. But what happens if the attacker lives on the other side of the country? How would this attacker learn about the wireless environment without being physically present?

This is where tools like WiGLE come into play.


How do hackers use WiGLE to attack remote Wi-Fi networks?

Recon First

If an attacker wanted to target a remote area, they would simply enter a zip code, address, or browse a map to learn what networks were present along with the network's approximate location. Then, by looking at a map of the target area, the attacker could search by network name (SSID) to decide what network to attack. If it's a busy metropolitan area, it's more difficult to pinpoint an exact location and differentiate one network from the other SSIDs, but it’s a good starting point.

WiGLE Search of Milk St, Boston MACloseup WiGLE Search of Milk Street, Boston MA

Another way an attacker leverages this data is to cross reference SSIDs with Preferred Network Lists (PNLs). In short, a PNL is a list of networks that a device has connected to previously, and has been approved by the device to willfully join again in the future if ever within broadcast range.

All access points (APs) that you have asked your device to "Connect Automatically" will be on your PNL...like a coffee shop or doctor's office. The PNL is how your phone knows that your home network is your home network and connects automatically when you get within range. That’s not to say that your phone will connect to any network with the same name - it would need the same password too - but your phone is constantly broadcasting out to the open airwaves “Are you my network?” to try to find home.

Recon leads to valuable information

If the attacker knows approximately where you live or work they can use WiGLE to note all of the SSIDs near your home or work. Armed with this information, they wait in another location (possibly a conference they know you're attending, or a coffee shop they know you frequent) and cross reference the lists of SSIDs gathered on WiGLE with activity from devices in locations they know you were in close enough proximity to gather the wireless traffic. 

Take a minute to really think about how easy it is to capture network information.

Once the overlap between WiGLE data and gathered data with confirmed physical presence is determined, attackers can confirm which networks they need to target to attack your home or work network. And, the attack could be launched from anywhere close by, including a neighboring coffee shop, or even a weatherproof device dropped in the surrounding woods. The attack could also be launched from a distance of several hundred feet using specialized antennas. Attack scenarios are dependent on budget, availability, and motivation. 


WiGLE also plays a good role

This isn’t to say that WiGLE can only be used for evil. One of its many other uses is to supplement legitimate site surveys to see what networks are in your area - an important consideration for your business, but it shouldn’t be used as your only survey. 

Pulsar Security's automated, 24/7/365 Wi-Fi network assessment service, powered by SONAR, can assist you with the wireless landscape surrounding your business so you can protect your Wi-Fi networks from potential attackers

Ahren Thielker

Ahren Thielker

Ahren believes strongly in personal development and employs this not only in continually advancing his own impressive skill set, but also in empowering others to do so as a founding officer of the nonprofit organization TechRamp and organizer of the BSides New Hampshire conference. Equally capable of configuring firewalls to secure a network’s edge, hacking into a web application, and picking complex locks, Ahren has trained with the CORE Group as a physical security specialist, is a Core Netwars Tournament champion, and has earned GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN), GIAC Python Coder (GPYC), GIAC Web Application Penetration Tester (GWAPT), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Network+, and Security+ certification.