Association race when acting as AP?

Michal Kazior michal.kazior at
Thu Jul 9 08:42:28 EDT 2015

On 7 July 2015 at 17:00, Jouni Malinen <j at> wrote:
> On Thu, Jul 02, 2015 at 10:24:33AM +0200, Michal Kazior wrote:
>> After looking into hostapd code I noticed something strange and I wonder if
>> anyone else is already aware of this problem:
>>  1. AP starts
>>  2. STA->AP auth OTA
>>  3. AP->STA auth OTA
>>  4. STA->AP assoc req OTA
>>  5. AP->STA assoc resp OTA
>>  6. STA sends NullFunc with "STA will go to sleep" bit set
>>  7. AP driver/device sees a frame from with unknown TA/SA and issues Deauth
>> w/ Reason 7
>>    (this Deauth doesn't originate from hostapd; it comes from the device FW
>> in my case)
> If there is a driver or firmware design that sends these
> Deauthentication frames on their own, they better be able to handle race
> conditions and enable this functionality at the correct time..

At least one ath10k qca61x4 firmware seems to send Deauth when it gets
a NullFunc from DA which doesn't have an internal peer entry. It
doesn't seem to care whether peer is authenticated or associated
though. Probably having none->auth, auth->assoc state transitions
(instead of a single none->assoc) would be enough - at least for
ath10k today.

> Sure,
> cfg80211 and hostapd may need modifications to make this work better,
> but this needs to be done for things to work properly. There's a good
> reason for hostapd having code to check the internal STA associated
> flag before triggering deauthentication based on EVENT_RX_FROM_UNKNOWN
> events..
>> To me this looks like a race in hostapd. The station should be installed to
>> driver _before_ sending Assoc Resp frame, not after. My quick-n-dirty hack
>> seems to help:
> Adding a STA entry before sending Association Response frame would be
> fine, but this change would do more: it would claim that STA entry to be
> in associated state. That is not correct from the IEEE 802.11 standard
> view point. On the AP side, a STA becomes associated when an ACK frame
> to the (Re)Association Response frame is received by the AP.

This seems pretty racy inherently. Driver/firmware actually needs to
be aware of this requirement and make sure to avoid reordering Tx ACK
processing and Rx. Since Tx/Rx engines are often (if not always?)
independent of each other I imagine this could be a common problem
across many devices today but perhaps not easily observable due to
narrow time window this could happen in.

Anyway - thank you for your great insight!


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