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Flipper Zero: 'Can you really hack Wi-Fi networks?' and other questions answered

You have Flipper Zero questions. I have answers.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor
Flipper Zero with the Wi-Fi dev board

Flipper Zero with the Wi-Fi dev board

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

It's been a long time since I've seen as much buzz over a bit of tech as I've seen about the Flipper Zero. 

This $170 "portable multi-tool for pentesters and geeks in a toy-like body" puts the power to explore RFID and radio protocols, as well as debug hardware using GPIO pins in your pocket.

Also: People are already trying to get ChatGPT to write malware

I posted my first impressions of the Flipper Zero the other day, and since them I've been bombarded with questions. Here I'm going to do my best to answer the most commonly asked Flipper Zero questions.

Note: Don't mess with hardware and Wi-Fi networks that you don't own or have permission to work with! You can quickly end up in a world of hurt and deep into legal headaches. 

Is the Flipper Zero a "hack the planet" tool?

Having been using the Flipper Zero for a few weeks now, I have to say that I'm impressed by what this pocket tool can do. 

It's allows me to read/copy/emulate NFC/RFID/IR remotes and sub-GHz wireless signals with ease. That's a lot of power in a small tool. 

But don't get carried away. If there are limitations to what the tool can do, a quick web search or a look on YouTube will give you a good overview of them.

Is the Flipper Zero worth the money?

It's $170 from the official store (if you can buy it new, but third-party sellers are pushing them for two or three times the price). For some, this is nothing. For others, this is a lot.

As to whether it's worth the money, it depends.

For the money, it's hard to buy anything else that can do what the Flipper Zero can do. If you want something to experiment with NFC and RFID and sub-GHz wireless networks, it's a nice all-in-one tool. The GPIO outputs are also cool if you're into playing with hardware.

It also gives you the ability to run BadUSB attacks on devices.

But where I see the main power of Flipper Zero is less the hacking destination, but more the journey.

The Flipper Zero is a brilliant learning tool, and you will be learning all along the way.

What can you learn? How GitHub works, how to download and install firmware, how to flash hardware, what all the different networking and wireless protocols are and how they work, and how to work with GPIO -- for starters.

Can I clone bank cards/mess with infrastructure/make ATMs pour out money?

I hate to break it to you, but 95% of the stuff you see people doing on TikTok and Instagram is fake nonsense created by people looking for 5 seconds of fame.

And this is a big negative for the Flipper Zero. These videos give people a false sense of what's possible, and it's going to mean that for every ten Flipper Zeros sold, a good nine are going to end up being resold or forgotten in a drawer or box.

But for a good portion of that 10% that stick with it, the Flipper Zero could be their first steps to a long path of learning, and one that could end up in a career in tech.

Can you hack Wi-Fi networks?

Yes, but not directly.

Flipper Zero and the Wi-Fi dev board

Flipper Zero and the Wi-Fi dev board

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

First, you need a Wi-Fi dev board, and then you're going to have to flash the firmware on the Wi-Fi board, install new firmware on the Flipper Zero, figure out what to do when things don't work, and then learn how it all works.

Then you can run a tool called Wi-Fi Marauder that will give you access to a bunch of wireless tools.

Running a RickRoll Wi-Fi 'attack'

Running a RickRoll Wi-Fi 'attack'

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET
RickRoll attack creates loads of WI-FI SSIDs with names that are lyrics of "that song"

RickRoll attack creates loads of WI-FI SSIDs with names that are lyrics of "that song"

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

There are no shortcuts though. Every step takes time and learning and some effort on your part.

Is it the best tool to learn pentesting/hacking?

It's a good start, and a lot less intimidating (and cheaper) than other routes. You could download and install Kali Linux, get yourself an ALFA AWUS036ACH dual-band wireless USB Wi-Fi adapter (you need this because it supports advanced features such as monitor mode and injection), and then learn to use Linux.

Also: How to choose the right Linux desktop distribution

This will give you a lot more power than the Flipper, but it's also a much steeper learning curve.  

Can you damage things with the Flipper Zero?

Yes. Not permanently (well, I've not done that… yet) but things can stop working properly.

I've had my Flipper Zero for a couple of weeks and I've crashed Wi-Fi on my router, temporarily stopped a car's key fob from working properly (which could have meant a trip to the garage if I didn't know how to solve the issue), and made an AC unit go bananas using the IR remote.

Also: How to enable UWB on Android (and why you should)

This is why you shouldn't mess with things that don't belong to you or that you don't have permission to work with.

Where can I buy a Flipper Zero?

The official website gets stock on a regular basis, but if you're in a rush and want to pay over the odds, there are plenty of sellers flipping their Flipper Zeros.

If it's the Wi-Fi dev board you want, that's quite easy to pick up. 

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