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I recently got a new laptop. As I usually do, I removed the wifi module from it, since I intend to use it in public places such as my college and I don't need any sort of connectivity outside my home.

The reason I do this is because there is no physical switch for the wireless connection on the laptop and I feel insecure if it is simply disabled via software. Several friends and relatives have told me I may be too paranoid since obviously 'you can't do anything to a laptop if the wifi connection is turned off'.

I've always been of the 'You not knowing about it doesn't mean it isn't possible' opinion, so I'd rather be safe than sorry, but this sparked my curiosity about this issue.

Has anyone successfully attacked a computer via wireless while it was disabled via software? What are the risks of having a wifi module inactive but installed and powered?

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  • Are you concerned about something along the lines of "Just because the software shows the logged in user that Wifi being off doesn't mean Wifi is actually off". Note also that Bluetooth is a radio technology too. Mar 30 '14 at 20:42
  • I have also thought about that, but I'm more interested in software disabled wifi being used (In any way)
    – user34504
    Mar 31 '14 at 12:39
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If it is turned off in software, it isn't listening for anything and may very well even be powered off. There would be no way for someone to attack it since it wouldn't respond to any attempt to connect with it. It wouldn't even be listening.

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I have come across a story in which the attackers not only infected the BIOS of the machine making it nearly impossible to remove but transmitted it over micrphone/speakers. Obviously this should be took with a grain of salt as it doesn't seem very practical but the story can be found here!

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  • I knew about that, but I don't think it is what I was looking for :)
    – user34504
    Mar 29 '14 at 19:22
  • What exactly are you looking for ... Peace of mind? I think you may want too use paper in that case ;)
    – Sighbah
    Mar 29 '14 at 19:28
  • No, I just want to know if there is any documented way to activate and use a wireless card remotely.
    – user34504
    Mar 29 '14 at 21:55
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Stuxnet was notorious for attacking Iran's nuclear program in 2010. The attack used social engineering to infect air-gapped computers in one of Iran's nuclear facilities. See https://www.f5.com/labs/articles/cisotociso/attacking-air-gap-segregated-computers for more information.

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  • Social engineering? If memory serves me correct, stuxnet used a zero day exploit to spread via USB drives.
    – nobody
    Feb 16 at 17:22
  • @nobody, yes, that's correct. But, someone with access to the air-gapped computers at the facility had to be 'tricked' into plugging the USB drives into these computers. This is where the social engineering came in. See redteamsecure.com/blog/… for more info.
    – mti2935
    Feb 16 at 17:33

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