Alfa AWUS052NH Wireless USB Review

The Alfa AWUS052NH is a high-performance Dual-Band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) wireless USB adapter. It’s based on the MediaTek RT3572 chipset that supports IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n standards with up to 300Mbps transfer speeds, it’s Alfa’s third device in their 802.11abgn USB product range and has been available since March 2015 which costs around £47 or $60 depending on where you buy it.

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This review is geared towards a person with an interest in wireless network security or penetration testing who are contemplating on a purchase, as well as any tech enthusiast. I’ll briefly touch on some attacks too. Please don’t hesitate to get in contact if I’ve missed anything.

UPDATE: Kali Linux (kernel 4.12.6) has issues with wireless cards.

There seems to be an issue with the recent 4.12.6-1kali1 kernel update which caused really poor performance on a lot of wireless devices. I’ve re-tested on older kernel 4.11.6-1kali1 and it worked fine, I’ve written a quick How-to Downgrade tutorial for falling back to an older kernel. Update [2] Kali Linux has migrated to a new kernel 4.12.13-1kali2 which fixes wireless issues at least for this card.

Device Specification

Photograph of a setup I previously had, not the current I’ll be testing with. From left to right; Alfa Wireless device, Raspberry Pi 2, Anker Battery and Macbook pro.

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Description Value
Frequencies 2.4GHz and 5GHz
Standards 802.11 a/b/g/n
Chipset MediaTek RT3572
MIMO 2x2:2
Wireless Security WEP, WPA/2, 802.11X & WPS
Operating Modes IBSS, managed, AP, monitor, WDS, mesh point
Radio Antenna Two 5dBi detachable antennas with RP-SMA male connectors
Power Output Tx-Power b/g:30dBm* a:27dBm*
Connector Type Mini-USB to USB 2.0 Type A

Inside the package:

Setup

I’ve tried to simulate an attacker’s environment with the first three were the main components:

Tools & Attacks Tested

The tests were performed on the latest default Kali Linux driver for RT3572 chipsets (rt2800usb driver).

Tested 2.4GHz 5GHz Notes
airodump-ng yes yes 2.4GHz and 5GHz monitoring and sniffing worked really well.
aireplay-ng yes yes* deauth attack works on both bands. packet injection shows
it works with -D option, however more tests are required.
airbase-ng yes yes worked very well.
wireshark yes yes no issues analyzing packets while in live monitor mode.
kismet yes yes no issues.
mdk3 yes yes* deauth attacks works well, may reset access points.
evil-twin yes yes no issues.
captive portal yes yes no issues.

airodump-ng

Performed very well at passive scanning on both bands, I was able to successfully capture four-way handshakes, channel hop, probe access points and reveal hidden ones too. I’ve always maintained a strong connection and never had any drop out issues.

Scanning 5GHz frequencies --band a or --channel 36-165 while channel hopping may display (-1), this can be easily resolved by selecting a specific channel rather than channel hopping. The --ignore-negative-one doesn’t seem to help either.

aireplay-ng

Running an aireplay-ng test on b/g (2.4GHz) band works really well, supports packet injection and deauth attacks right out of the box, which is expected, results:

[email protected]:~# aireplay-ng --test -e XXXXXX -a 20:AA:XX:XX:XX:XX wlan0mon
13:46:18  Waiting for beacon frame (BSSID: 20:AA:XX:XX:XX:XX) on channel 1
13:46:18  Trying broadcast probe requests...
13:46:18  Injection is working!
13:46:20  Found 1 AP

13:46:20  Trying directed probe requests...
13:46:20  20:AA:XX:XX:XX:XX - channel: 1 - 'XXXXXX'
13:46:21  Ping (min/avg/max): 1.458ms/16.169ms/34.363ms Power: -8.07
13:46:21  30/30: 100%

Unfortunately, aireplay-ng wasn’t capable of packet injection on 5GHz frequencies, which is a shame. Running the same test under a specific 5GHz channel (40) with iwconfig wlan0mon channel 40 beforehand failed, results:

[email protected]:~# aireplay-ng --test -e XXXXXX-5G -a 20:AA:XX:XX:XX:XX wlan0mon
13:49:56  Waiting for beacon frame (BSSID: 20:AA:XX:XX:XX:XX) on channel 40
13:50:06  No such BSSID available.

Wait what? By giving the -D override AP detection, -a access point BSSID and -e access point ESSID options the test was able to complete, I’m a bit skeptical on this as I’ve read aircrack-ng 5GHz injection isn’t supported properly, anyway here were the results:

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De-authentication on 5GHz works! Tested on a client connected to the target access point on channel 48 using 802.11an (40MHz) in range immediately lost connection. Options used -D override AP detection, -a access point BSSID, -c client MAC address and -e access point ESSID, results:

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An unusual de-authentication method found when using --fakeauth, the key here is to use -h option to change the Alfa device MAC address to a client’s one which is already associated with a access point, after a few packets the access point sends a deauthentication packet to both us and the real client, results:

[email protected]:~# aireplay-ng -D --fakeauth 6000 -o 1 -q 10 -a 20:AA:XX:XX:XX:XX \
-h E0:F8:XX:XX:XX:XX -e XXXXXX-5G wlan0mon

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airbase-ng

Create a fake access point for capturing handshakes. Devices with saved profiles will most likely try to connect a better signal network. This attack is specifically useful when it’s just the client as only three packets are needed to launch a dictionary attack on the handshake (BSSID, Anonce & Snonce + MIC). The following shows the options used to create the clone listening on channel 44:

[email protected]:~# airbase-ng -c 44 -e "XXXXXX-5G" -a 20:AA:XX:XX:XX:XX -W 1 -Z 2 \
-n 484024ace58c73f81692083e987ed9bd33fa5ddf148a6d35181c38f59447e2dc wlan0

The -Z 2 (WPA2 TKIP) option was the best suited in this attack as -Z 4 (WPA2 CCMP) had difficulties retrieving the 2nd part of the four-way handshake and lead to client having to re-enter their password (not stealthy). One interesting option -n sets a specific Anonce value rather than having one randomly generated, this could be a useful aspect for future debugging and testing purposes.

For this attack to be successful it’s important the client actually knowns the correct password, otherwise you’ll waste time cracking a wrong password.

wireshark

Analyzing network packets with wireshark. I was able to view live packets, in this particular case the first two messages of the four-way handshake as well as the custom Anonce, previously setup by airbase-ng, results:

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A few other useful filters:

kismet

My second choice when it comes to network sniffers or monitors. It performed very well in identifying networks on both bands. I didn’t test any plugins or intrusion detection capabilities but I’m sure there is no reason for them not to work.

mdk3

A really noisy method that cripples an access point by connecting thousands of fake client devices which completely destroys the network, in some cases reseting the router. Tests revealed using the following option was difficult to capture handshakes:

mdk3 wlan0mon a -a 20:AA:XX:XX:XX:XX -m E0:F8:XX:XX:XX:XX

The de-authentication attack (d option) on the 5GHz 802.11a/n does work. Tested with 802.11a 20MHz + 40MHz, and 802.11an with 20MHz + 40MHz on channels 36, 40, 44 and 48. The de-authentication attack on 2.4GHz band works too.

mdk3 wlan0mon d -b blacklist.txt -c 40 The file blacklist.txt contains a list of BSSID addresses.

evil-twin

The evil-twin attack makes use of hostapd, dnsmasq and iptables rules if one plans to phish out credentials. This attack focuses heavily around the hostapd program, for basic functionality a wireless interface card must support AP operating mode, since almost all wireless cards support this mode there were no issues configuring a clone access point to perform our pentesting tasks.

It was also possible to perform a simulated attack against the WPA2 Enterprise 802.11X standard on both bands. The attack itself relies on a patched version of hostapd called hostapd-wpe which will capture the challenge submitted by a user if they decide to accept an attacker’s supplied certificate.

captive-portal

Much like evil-twin attack, with additional iptables rules for forwarding traffic and a web server to serve a fake captive-portal page. This attack works really well when clients use hotspot assistant software such as Macs ‘Captive Network Assistant’ or enable auto-connect features. They’ll be asked to provide login credentials in order to proceed for example ‘BT-with-FON’ wi-fi hotspots found all over Europe.

No special configuration needed as it only requires a device with AP mode.

Miscellaneous

Adjusting TX-power output. I was able to achieve 30dBm (bg) and 27dBm (a) specific to each channel by changing country regulatory settings, be sure that is legal under your country’s telecommunication laws.

Pairing the wireless device such as a Raspiberry Pi 2 on its own will not work. The RPi2 doesn’t provide enough juice to power the ALFA device that’s why in the first photograph above it’s being powered by a battery pack, it’s also the reason they supply a USB Y cable.

Detachable antennas is a real nice feature, even though the writer didn’t make use of this it’s still an important aspect all external wireless devices should have.

Summary

The ALFA AWUS052NH wireless USB device, or what I like to referrer it as ‘the Orange One’ is another great product from Alfa Networks. Its Dual-Band monitoring and sniffing capabilities are a treat to have, more so when considering it’s power output compared to other devices on the market. The most surprising aspect about this card was the aireplay-ng test with -D option, without which I couldn’t even perform a simple de-authentication attack. Overall I can confidently say this device supports passive and active attacks on both bands, as I was able to attack the following; WPA/2 (TKIP), WPA/2 (CCMP), WPA2-Enterprise security standards. The 802.11ac standard wasn’t tested as the writer currently doesn’t own any supported devices.

It’s undoubtably a product worth checking out, especially for pentesters.

What’s next

Purchase two wireless cards based on the Atheros (AR 9590) chipset which uses the ath9k driver, preferably the Compex WLE350NX mini-pcie card. Atheros chipsets have great reputation when it comes to wireless penetration testing especially packet injection, this particular chipset supports 3x3:3 MIMO and 802.11a/n/b/g both 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

With the addition of a Laguna GW2387 SBC Single Board Computer or any that supports multiple mini-pice slots working simultaneously. This device would be a sort of like a drop box, a physical device that can be hidden somewhere in range of a target’s wireless network and accessed remotely via LTE on the attacker’s side.

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