PenTest Edition: Cracking WEP, WPS, WPA, and WPA2 Wi-Fi Networks with the “Fern Wi-Fi Cracker” Tool

The Cybersecurity Man

Here’s a fun assessment you can perform on your home network. I’m running Kali Linux 2018.1 in a virtual machine using VMware Workstation Player. My wireless network adapter is an Alfa AWUS036NHA with a 9dBi omni-directional antenna. Penetration testers may use the Fern Wi-Fi cracker as a security auditing tool to test the security of an organization’s wireless network.


The information provided on the cybersecurityman is for educational purposes only. I am in no way responsible for any misuse of the information provided. All the information here is meant to provide the reader with the knowledge to defend against hackers and prevent the attacks discussed here. At no time should any reader attempt to use this information for illegal purposes.

The “Fern Wi-Fi Cracker” tool, from hereon abbreviated as “FWC,” is a security auditing and attack software program provided in the Kali Linux distribution. FWC has the ability to…

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Streamline the PCI Assessment Process with a Playbook

Why Create a PCI Assessment Playbook

Having gone through the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) yearly assessment process several times, I can confirm it is a fairly intensive assessment that will require a large effort from a lot people!

Each assessment the Assessors will request evidence, review documentation, ask for sample system configurations, be onsite to interview and observe personnel, and present observations or findings that must be remediated. These various assessment activities and last-minute remediation efforts can be very disruptive to all involved, and usually result in “fire drill” activities that require personnel to be pulled away from their daily tasks to react to the assessment requests.

Since the PCI assessment is very similar from year to year, and with some well thought out planning it is possible to streamline the assessment process. Just like in football, having a well thought out strategy in the form of a playbook can assist everyone that needs to know their part, or what needs to be done when. With this cylinder process in place and in the form of a PCI Assessment Playbook that everyone can follow, it can greatly reduce the stress historically associated with the assessment and attaining PCI compliance.

Business as Usual

Business as usual is a buzz term within the PCI assessment world, and to build on that theme the ideal way to organize the playbook is in a chronological order to document all the yearly activities to support PCI and the assessment. Obliviously the months the assessment is going on will be the peak of the activities and the bulk of the playbook. Some activities that can happen outside that time frame, for example the internal and external pentest and the risk assessment are just two examples of activities that can be done any time during the year. When the Assessors ask for these reports there is no reactive response to schedule the activities, and the reports will be available.

Playbook Management

Make the playbook a public accessible document, either on a company intranet site or on a shared drive, but anyone should be able to view the playbook and reference the document at any time.

It is extremely important to create an organized process to collect information about the PCI assessment process. This is where you will record key pieces of information about the assessment and what you’ve gathered or supplied in support of assessment. This should carry over from year to year and include links to the critical documentation and where the submitted evidence is stored.

There are various ways to organize this, and you can leverage spreadsheets, a project management solution, a well-organized folder structure on a shared drive, or even a cloud based solution. Have a place where you can record the responses, related documents and any information from the PCI assessment that may be used by the Assessors.

Another tip, and since I work for a large organization and we have dozens of infrastructure and application teams that are pulled into the evidence collection effort is to have each team maintain their evidence gathering instructions in mini playbooks, or what we call “Evidence Collection Guides”. 

Record Responses and Owners

To start making use of the Playbook record any information about what specific pieces of evidence the Assessors ask for, and what evidence you have supplied in response to these requests, and who was able to acquire this information, such as a Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).

Solution Owners are important to keep in the loop when the assessment and requests start flowing, but obtain a SME or Engineer contact who is closer to the day to day operations of the various solutions. This person has intimate knowledge of the solution, and may have some basic security knowledge, and they can understand the request for evidence and can collect what is precisely needed.

Our Assessors provide us with an Information Request List (IRL), and it will have the requested documentation to verify security controls are in place for each PCI DSS requirement. Since the IRL is in an Excel spread sheet we can easily add a couple of columns to list and track the teams and/or SMEs responsible to provide evidence for each IRL line item. We also add a column to the spread sheet and document the evidence to gather, rather it is in our policies, documentation we maintain, or system configs we need to gather, and we also list the preferred file format of the various documents.

Most importantly, when working with the SMEs ask them to record how they obtained the various pieces of evidence. If they ran a report have them write down the type of report and the process they followed to create it. You’ll be very likely to follow the same process next year. These instructions should be kept in each teams Evidence Collection Toolkit, and having the process written down can also assist if new personnel take over the PCI assessment responsibilities and that person will have the data they need to quickly reproduce the effort.

Automate Evidence Collection

When possible try to automate the collection of evidence. For example, if you need to collect server configurations to show Telnet is disabled from a sampled set of servers create a script to automate that process. You can engage a SME for assistance to create the script, and then store that script along with any instructions or procedures to run the script. These scripts and any automated processes can be reused for future assessments.

As mentioned, if each team is maintaining their own Evidence Collection Toolkit it is the ideal place to record all the instructions to gather evidence and reference any scripts to be used.

The objective here is to reduce the amount of work time necessary to collect the evidence, and to ensure the consistency of the output.

Avoid Single use Documentation

When supplying documentation such as network diagrams, lists of personnel with access to cardholder data, asset inventories, hardening guides, SDLCs, etc… avoid having these documents being specifically crafted to support the PCI assessment. Having an assessment only document practically guarantees it will be stale when the document is needed, or when the next assessment cycle comes around.

Whenever possible try to adapt a “living” document and consistently update that document. Chances are these updated documents will be more useful during the year, and may serve other needs, and possibly may be requested for other audits your business goes through during the year. 

It is also worth noting that even if there are no environmental changes that would require changes to the documentation, all the documents should still be reviewed once every twelve months. The revision history should reflect the review with no updates and that way the Assessors can verify documentation is reviewed annually.

Update, Update, and Keep Updating

As mentioned, each time you go through the yearly assessment refresh your playbook and contacts to keep it current and accurate. Revise process documentation based on any environmental changes and try to increase the evidence collection automation level whenever you can. The point of having the PCI Assessment Playbook is not so you can create it once and then never update it. The goal is to leverage the work already done in the past and make sure the information gathering documentation and processes are up to date. Each year should be an opportunity to not only respond to the current assessment, but also to prepare for the next one as well.


While there is no one size fits all Playbook out there, it is more then worth the effort to create a customized PCI Assessment Playbook and having it in place. The strategies I discuss here can reduce the required effort when you go through the yearly assessment, and this planning and capturing the useful information about the assessment process can cut down significantly on the reactive fire drills that can occur each year during an assessment. It’s well worth the extra hours this year to save yourself ten times that effort when the assessment cycle comes around again, and again, and again…

The Great Multi-Factor Authentication Debate — PCI Guru

The Council brings back the Assessor Session to this year’s Community Meeting and it takes only one question to get passions flowing. The question was to get a clarification of a comment made by Ralph Poore, Director, Emerging Standards at the Council, about multi-factor authentication (MFA). First a little background to get everyone up to […]

via The Great Multi-Factor Authentication Debate — PCI Guru

The Importance of System Hardening


Most operating systems are not very secure out of the box and favor convenience and ease of use over security. IT Security professionals may not agree with a vendor’s user friendly approach to their OS, but that does not mean they have to accept it. There are steps that can be taken to harden a system and eliminate as many security risks as possible

System Hardening Examples

The most basic hardening procedure is to change the vendor default user name and password. You would be surprised how many vendor default access codes can found with a simple Google search!

System hardening can include configuration settings to remove unnecessary services, applying firewall rules, enforcing password complexity, setting failed login thresholds, and system idle time outs.

System hardening can also include installing an anti-virus program, forwarding logs to a centralized log management solution, and applying vendor released system patches.

Basically system hardening is a way to lock down the Operating System before the system goes into production. The hardening guides can not only detail the steps to follow to secure a system, but can complement any system deployment guides. Along with the list of procedures to follow to improve system security the hardening guides can reference vendor best practices, and industry standard security requirements such as NIST or the PCI requirements, and how those standards can be meet as part of the overall system hardening process.

Keys to System Hardening and Hardening Guides

  • Review your inventory of the network connected systems and understand what you have and how it’s at risk before you can completely implement any hardening procedures. This includes reviewing current deployment and operational processes and understanding the threats and vulnerabilities to the various deployed systems and addressing any discovered security gaps.
  • The hardening guides shouldn’t be interpreted as one-size-fits-all solution. There may need to be separate guides for the servers versus workstations, or for different OS’s being run in the environment. Specific hardening guides may need to be developed depending on the systems function and criticality along with its placement in the environment.
  • If your company places an importance on security and there is C level buy in for security it can still be balancing act to secure your systems and to do what is right for the business.
  • The hardening guides are a baseline to secure your systems and no matter how tight the systems are locked down they’re still going to be exploitable in some way. It is important to never let your guard down and not get into the mindset of everything is secure because of the procedures you have followed in the hardening guides.
  • Hardening guides should be a “living document” and should be reviewed and updated whenever there are changes to your internal policies or procedures, or when there are changes to any followed external policies or standards.
  • The guides should not only document how to deploy a secure system, but how to maintain a secure system with continued vulnerability management and system patching.


To review, system hardening is the process of enhancing security through an assortment of methods which results in a more secure operating system environment, and system hardening is another defense layer to protect resources and data.

Installation Guide for Kali Linux


Introducing Kali Linux

The creators of BackTrack have released a new, advanced penetration testing Linux distribution named Kali Linux. BackTrack 5 was the last major version of the BackTrack distribution. The creators of BackTrack decided that to move forward with the challenges of cyber security and modern testing a new foundation was needed. Kali Linux was born and released March 13th 2013. Kali Linux is based on Debian and an FHS-Compliant file system.

Kali has many advantages over the BackTrack. It comes with many more updated tools. The tools and streamlined with Debian repositories and synchronized four times a day. That means users have the latest package updates and security fixes. The new compliant file systems translate into running most tools from anywhere on the system. Kali has also made customization, unattended installation, and flexible desktop environments and strong feature in Kali Linux.

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IT Security Skills Anyone Can and Should Learn

I’ve been teaching IT security awareness for several years and I try to get those in attendance of the classes to learn some basic IT security skills. These basic skills build on each other and there is some cross over, but ultimately this blended set of security skills can help anyone stay safe online. As with any sport you always start by learning the fundamentals, and while no one skill can get you into the game or keep you safe online, they can definitely make you ready for either.

Physical Security


With free Wi-Fi available in coffee shops and many fast food restaurants I constantly see people leaving their devices unattended and this lapse can allow someone to walk off with the device unnoticed. Think about your device and the amount of data it may contain.  The device may have your whole world stored on it! If someone takes your laptop, tablet, or phone it is so much more than having the device stolen, but the data it contains. Besides this Wi-Fi example other scenarios to pay attention to your device is when going through airport security or leaving the device in plain site while stored in the car. These situations can also expose the device to being stolen, so physical security is a great starting point and a must have skill for overall IT Security.

Don’t Accept the Defaults

One of the most basic rules of security, but at the same time one of the most abused is not changing settings from the vendor defaults. The excitement of getting a new device and wanting to use it as soon as possible can cause people to rush through the setup and accept defaults with the promise to return later to change the settings. Unfortunately the promise to return and change the settings never happens and wanting to use the device before setting it up properly has created a security risk. For example just plugging in a wireless router with its default settings is like forgetting to lock the door when you leave the house. Many wireless routers administrative guides can be downloaded from the manufactures web site and these guides include default settings for the admin password or encryption key settings. Another action related to accepting the default settings is not checking for or applying updates. Either during the initialization phase or during the life of the device not applying these updates can render the device vulnerable to the security holes the updates were meant to patch. Many devices are insecure out of the box so take the time to secure them.

Sense of Urgency

When I teach email security awareness a common theme with scams is the sense of urgency being portrayed in the emails. Many of these don’t think just click type scams also show up in social media sites and text based scams. The sense of urgency scams will try to get people to click or react without thinking about what they are doing. Some scams will have an emotional pull of someone you care about being in trouble, or you could lose access to your bank account, or even to let you know you won a prize. Before you know it your judgment is clouded and you clicked and responded. There was a great awareness campaign started a few years ago called STOP THINK CLICK and those three words can make a big difference when responding or better yet not responding to these types of scams.

It won’t happen to me

I hear “it won’t happen to me” or “I would not fall for that trick” all the time, and I have even said those same statements myself! Online scams are always evolving and new scams show up all the time, so always be alert and never let your guard down. If something seems out of place start asking yourself some questions; does this person typically send this to me, why does my bank need me to verify my password, should I be logging into my email on unsecure Wi-Fi, why does this app need access to text messages and phone calls, etc… After asking some questions you can make an informed decision, and if something just doesn’t feel right trust your gut that it isn’t right!

Social Networks


There is no such thing as private on social networks and anything you post your friends can share with the world!



Everyone doesn’t have to be an IT security expert to be safe online, but knowing some basic skills and practicing the skills can help anyone protect themselves. So after learning and practicing your IT security skills go outside and practice throwing, fielding, and hitting because the Yankees are looking for a new stop short!

Note: I was a guest blogger for the Tripwire The State of Security blog where this article first appeared.

Complete Detailed Guide on Installing Kali linux in Vmware

Great set of instructions for installing Kali Linux in VMware Player.

Cyber Warrior+

This tutorial will walk you through the difficult process of installing Kali Linux in VMware Player, a free virtual machine manager that can be downloaded from This tutorial assumes that you have some basic knowledge of your computer (amount of RAM number of processors, etc.) This tutorial is also intended for beginners who haven’t worked with VMware or Kali Linux before.

Step One:

First we need to download Kali from If you have a 64-bit capable computer (like me), then you probably will want the 64-bit version of Kali for performance reasons. Expand the drop down menu’s to find the version you need. Select the 64-bit version ONLY if you have a 64-bit computer.

step 1
Step Two:
If you don’t have a torrent program, then click the link highlighted above and select “Save” when the download notification appears. Make sure you know where you saved it.
step 2
If you have…

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What’s in a Name?

hello-my-name-is-wifiMost home users select their wireless network name without much thought to the actual name except to make it easy for them to see and connect to. So many people never think that the networks name also known as the Service Set Identifier or SSID could be a security risk. Okay, a security risk may be a reach, but let’s just say some SSIDs are more secure than others, and I will list some dos and don’ts when selecting an SSID.

Before the list lets discuss what makes the SSID important. Hackers need to gather several pieces of information including the SSID to crack a networks WPA/WPA2 password. Hackers have pre-configured tables with this information including common or default SSID names and if you’re using one of these common names you have made their job easier and your network more of a target.

  • Do change the SSID from the factory set default wireless network name.
  • Don’t select a name in top 1000 most common SSIDs. Now this list is very long and at first glance you will notice a lot of factory given default names (dlink, Linksys, 2wire, Netgear, etc…), so as mentioned above change the default name.
  • Don’t use your first or last name, address, phone number, or anything else personal. Broadcasting personal information identifies who owns the network, and may aid the hacker in cracking the wireless password.
  • Do be unique when selecting an SSID, but too much creativity may draw attention to the networks name along with attempts to hack the network. With a maximum of 32 characters you have some creative capabilities, but also think camouflage, so the network name blends in with the other networks in range and does not stand out.
  • Do follow these rules even if your SSID is hidden or not being broadcast. Hidden network SSIDs can very easily be discovered and they are not immune.

The most important thing to learn is to always change the SSID from the default. Having a unique SSID can not only make the hackers job more difficult, but it may signal to the hacker that if the name was changed other settings were changed as well persuading the hacker to look for an easier target.

The To DS and From DS Fields

Currently I’m studying for the Certified Wireless Analysis Professional (CWAP) exam and I’m rereading the study guide and I found the chapters that examined the different fields and elements present in the MAC header most interesting. I had a rough idea, but during my studies learned a great deal more about the unique fields and elements dedicated to wireless that keep the network functioning and help packets get delivered. Two fields of particular interest are the To Distribution System (To DS) and From Distribution System (From DS) and how these fields determine if the frame is leaving or entering the wireless environment.

Distribution System

Just a quick definition of the distribution system and basically the DS is the infrastructure that connects multiple access points together to form an Extended Service Set (ESS). The DS is typically an 802.3 Ethernet wired network, but it doesn’t have to be, and the DS can even be a wireless back haul.

MAC Header & Frame Control Field

Lets now look at the MAC header which can contain four address fields. The number of address fields is a major difference between Ethernet frames, which only use two address fields, and wireless frames that could use as many as four address fields. Each address field is 6 bytes in length to hold a standard 48 bit MAC address, and most wireless frames will only use three of the address fields, and wireless frames being transmitted in a wireless distribution system would be the only frames using all four address fields.

The MAC header contains the Frame Control Field consisting of 11 sub fields (see pic below) including the To DS and From DS fields. The To DS and From DS fields are each 1 bit and can be occupied with a 1 or a 0 and there are four possible combinations using these two fields.

MAC Header

The To DS and From DS fields are important for assessing the packet since the bit combination of these fields identifies if the frame is entering or leaving the wireless environment. The fields can also show if the packet is part of an ad hoc network, or part of a wireless distribution system, and if the frame is a Management or Control frame not intended to leave the wireless environment.

To DS and From DS fields are both 0

The frame is either part of an ad-hoc network or the frame is not intended to leave the wireless environment. The screen shot below shows a Beacon Management frame with a status of not leaving the DS or network (see the highlighted line). Management and Control frames will always have the To DS and From DS fields set to 0 and are never sent to the distribution system network.

An Ad-hoc network connects multiple wireless devices together, and typically does not connect to a wired network, so there is no DS involved or requirement to have the fields set to 1.


To DS field is 1 and From DS field is 0

The frame is leaving the wireless environment and is intended for a computer on the distribution system network. For example after a wireless station authenticates it will need to obtain an IP address and that request will be forwarded by the AP to the DHCP server that resides on the distribution system network.

To DS field is 0 and From DS field is 1

The packet is entering the wireless environment coming from the DS. The screen shot below shows a Data (Type/Subtype field) frame capture in Wireshark, and the highlighted line shows the To DS and From DS fields along with a status of the frame coming from the DS to the station via the access point.


To DS and From DS fields are both 1

When both the To DS and From DS are set to 1 the packet is involved with a wireless distribution system (WDS) network. WDS networks are used to connect multiple networks together, typically for building-to-building connectivity, or a WDS can connect access points together to from a wireless mesh network.

Address Fields

As mentioned the MAC header can contain four addresses and these addresses can change depending on how the To DS and From DS fields are set. Here is quick reference for how the address fields are set for each To DS and From DS combination.

To DS and From DS are both 0

Address 1 = Destination
Address 2 = Source
Address 3 = BSSID

To DS field is 1 and From DS field is 0

Address 1 = BSSID
Address 2 = Source
Address 3 = Destination

To DS field is 0 and From DS field is 1

Address 1 = Destination
Address 2 = BSSID
Address 3 = Source

To DS and From DS are both 1

Address 1 = Receiver
Address 2 = Transmitter
Address 3 = Destination
Address 4 = Source


When observing packets in a sniffer or pen testing a wireless network It is important to look at the To DS and From DS fields to verify the direction of flow for the packet and how these fields then relate to the MAC addresses in the header.

Wireshark 802.11 Display Filters

Wireshark 802.11 frame type and subtype display filters to quickly sort packet captures.


Management Frames
Control Frames
Data Frames
Association Request
Association Response
Reassociation Request
Reassociation Response
Probe Request
Probe Response
Action Frames
Block ACK Request
Block ACK
Power Save Poll
Request to Send
Clear to Send
Data + CF ACK
Data + CF Poll
Data + CF ACK + CF Poll
Null Data
Null Data + CF ACK
Null Data + CF Poll
Null Data + CF ACK + CF Poll
QoS Data
QoS Data + CF ACK
QoS Data + CF Poll
QoS Data + CF ACK + CF Poll
Null QoS Data
Null QoS Data + CF Poll
Null QoS Data + CF ACK + CF Poll