What is an evil twin attack?
An evil twin attack is a rogue Wi-Fi access point (AP) that masquerades as a legitimate one, enabling an attacker to gain access to sensitive information without the end user's knowledge. An attacker can easily create an evil twin with a smartphone or other internet-capable device and some easily available software.
How does an evil twin attack work?
Attackers position themselves near a legitimate Wi-Fi network and lets their device discover what service set identifier and radio frequency the legitimate AP uses. They then send out their own radio signal, using the same name as the legitimate AP.
To the end user, the evil twin AP looks like a hotspot with a strong signal.
That's because attackers have not only used the same network name and settings as the "good twin" they are impersonating, but they have also physically positioned themselves near the end user so that the signal is likely to be the strongest within range.
If the end user is tempted by the strong signal and connects manually to the evil twin to access the internet or if the end user's computer automatically chooses the fake AP because it is running in promiscuous mode, the evil twin becomes the end user's wireless AP.
This gives the attacker the ability to eavesdrop or intercept sensitive data, such as login credentials, bank account details or credit card information.
How to protect your device from evil twins
Evil twin Wi-Fi APs are not a new phenomenon in wireless transmission. Historically, these captive portals have been used by hackers as base station clones or honeypots.
What's different now is that more businesses and consumers are using wireless devices in public places, and it's easier than ever for someone who doesn't have any technical expertise to create an evil twin.
To avoid evil twin attacks through fake Wi-Fi networks, end users should only use public Wi-Fi networks for web browsing and refrain from visiting any sites that require you to reveal sensitive information.
To provide an added layer of cybersecurity for corporate data, employees who use free Wi-Fi hotspots to gain internet access -- for example, at a coffee shop -- should always connect to the internet through a virtual private network.
Learn differences among Wired Equivalent Privacy, Wi-Fi Protected Access, WPA2 and WPA3 wireless security protocols, and find out if WPA2 can be upgraded to WPA3. See how to defend against the most common wireless network attacks and the importance of staying up to date with Wi-Fi training.