Sunday, 25 April 2021

Securing the air with Cisco’s wireless security solution

With the proliferation of IoT and BYOD devices, wireless security is top-of-the-mind for network administrators and customers. Globally, there will be nearly 628 million public Wi-Fi hotspots by 2023, which is almost four-fold increase from 2018. This will increase the attack surface and hence the vulnerability for the network. The total number of DDoS attacks is predicted to reach 15.4 million by 2023, more than double the number from 2018. Due to inherent open nature of wireless communications, wireless LANs are exposed to multitude of security threats, including DoS flood attacks.

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Number of DDoS attacks (Source: Cisco Annual Internet Report, 2018–2023)

Cisco Next Generation Advanced Wireless Intrusion Prevention System (aWIPS) is one of the solutions in Cisco’s multi-pronged approach to providing wireless security. aWIPS is a wireless intrusion threat detection and mitigation mechanism that secures the air. aWIPS along with currently offered Rogue management solution provides security against DoS attacks, management frame attacks, tool-based attacks and more. 

Solution Components


aWIPS and Rogue management solution comprises of Cisco access points, Wireless LAN controllers and Cisco DNA Center. This solution is supported on all 802.11ax/802.11ac wave2 Cisco access points and Cisco 9800 series controllers.

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Access Points: Access points detect threats using signature-based techniques. Access points can operate in monitor, local, and flex-connect mode. In monitor mode, radios continuously scan all channels for any threats, but they don’t serve any clients. In local and flex-connect mode, access point radios serve clients and scan for threats on client serving channels. On non-serving channels they would do best-effort scanning for any possible threats.  With Cisco’s Catalyst 9130 and 9120 WiFi 6 access points, there is an additional custom RF ASIC radio that continuously monitors all channels for any threats, while the other radios serve the clients. With this dedicated radio, we significantly improve our threat detection capabilities.

Cisco 9800 series controllers: Cisco WLAN controllers configure the access points and receives alarms and rogue information received from access points. It sends the consolidated reports to Cisco DNA Center.

Cisco DNA Center: Cisco DNA Center provides simple workflows that allow users to customize aWIPS signatures and rogue rules. It constantly monitors, aggregates, corelates and classifies all the rogue events and alarms received from all the managed access. Using network intelligence as well as topology information, DNA Center accurately pinpoints the source of attack, and allow users to contain the attack before any actual damage or exposure occur.

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Intuitive, Simple and Secure


Cisco aWIPS and Rogue management solution is intuitive and simple to configure, but has advanced signature-based techniques, network intelligence and analytics to detect threats. With Cisco aWIPS and Rogue management solution, the network is secure against all types of on-the-air wireless attacks.

Denial of Service:

Denial of service attacks aim to cause resource exhaustion and thus deny legitimate users access to the wireless service. Due to the nature of wireless communication, the DoS flood attacks are very prevalent in the network.

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DoS flood attacks snapshot (3-month period) from a wireless network

With aWIPS, we detect, report and provide location of following DoS attacks:

◉ Targeted towards access points: Access points have limited resources and DoS flood attacks like authentication flood, association flood, EAPOL-start flood, PS Poll Flood, probe request flood, re-association flood can overwhelm access point.

◉ Targeted towards infrastructure: DoS flood attacks like RTS flood, CTS flood or beacon flood causes RF spectrum congestion and thus block legitimate clients from accessing wireless network.

◉ Targeted towards clients: Attacks like de-authentication flood, disassociation flood, broadcast de-authentication flood, broadcast disassociation flood, EAPOL logoff flood, authentication failure attack, probe response flood, block ack flood can cause valid clients to disconnect or can prevent them from joining the network, thus disrupting wireless service.

◉ Targeted to exploit known vulnerabilities/bugs: Attacks using fuzzed beacon, fuzzed probe request, fuzzed probe response, malformed association request, malformed authentication are targeted to exploit known vulnerabilities/bugs in wireless devices, thus causing crash, leading to denial of service.

aWIPS detects Airdrop session, which can present security risks as these peer-to-peer connections are unauthorized in the corporate settings. As part of aWIPS solution, we also alert user of any invalid MAC OUI use in the network.

Impersonation and Intrusion

Rogue management provides protection against AP impersonation, Honeypot AP and Rogue-on-wire. Using auto-containment/manual containment, any rogue attacks can be thwarted before actual damage occurs.

Not one size fits all


Every network is different, and what is deemed as acceptable and expected behavior on one network need not always be acceptable for another. With Cisco DNA Center, we provide following configuration knobs to allow our customers to fine-tune aWIPS signature and Rogue rules based on their network needs:

1. Flexibility to select signatures.
2. Configurable thresholds for signatures.
3. Configurable threat levels

These configuration knobs allow one to configure aWIPS signatures to fit their network characteristics.

Users can add Rogue rules to customize Rogue detection and management. The rules allow users to configure threat levels and conditions like SSID, RSSI, encryption and rogue client count.

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aWIPS signature customization

Cisco DNA Center provides simple workflows that enable customers to customize aWIPS signatures and Rogue rules.

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Rogue rule customization

Attack Forensics


Sometimes there is an overwhelming need for evidence and post-analysis to get deeper understanding of the attacks in the network. With Cisco aWIPS you have an option to enable forensic capture per signature. When forensic capture knob is enabled for a signature, access points would capture raw packets during the attack timeframe and send it to DNA Center where the customers can view these packet captures. These packet captures can be used to analyze what is triggering the attack.

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Forensic Capture

Cisco DNA Center: The eye that sees them all


Using Cisco DNA Center, one can not only configure aWIPS and customize as per their needs, but can also view the alarms, along with location of threat, threat MAC details, all in single pane of glass. Gone are the days when the administrator had to go through each wireless LAN controller to get this level of detail. DNA Center aggregates, correlates and summarizes the attacks across the managed network on the unified security dashboard. In addition to current active alarms, DNA Center also stores historic data for users to view and analyze.

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Rogue/aWIPS alarm dashboard

Threat 360: The who/what/when/where?


Cisco DNA Center Threat 360 view provides detailed view on each of the alarms:

1. Context of attack: Information on attacker, victim and detecting entities.
2. Threat level: Severity of the attack
3. Location and Time of the attack.

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Threat 360

This kind of visualization of threats have gotten our customers excited about Cisco security solution package. Our customers love this unified dashboard with threat 360 view, and they are deploying DNA Center with Rogue package across multiple geographical locations.

Source: cisco.com

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