In a world where wireless communication is now becoming the norm, security takes on an entirely different dimension. In order to provide adequate protection, we must shift our focus from enterprise networks to cloud and wireless security standards. Wireless may often compromise security. 5G network slicing, for example, makes administrators open to attacks.
WPA is one of the most fundamental and time-tested methods for protecting wireless devices against attacks. Beginning in the early 2000s, several variants of WPA have been integrated into networks to safeguard data in transit. Let us examine the definition and functioning of WPA.
What Is the Meaning of WPA?
Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is a standard for securing devices that are connected to Wi-Fi networks. Its objective is to remedy major weaknesses in the existing Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) standard.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) created the wired equivalent privacy (WEP) encryption technique to provide wireless security for 802.11 network users. The wireless data, in this instance, was transmitted using radio waves. WEP was utilized to avoid eavesdropping, prevent unwanted access, and safeguard the integrity of data. The data was encrypted with the RC4 stream cipher.
However, it was discovered that this encryption technique had major security flaws. Within fifteen minutes, seasoned hackers could extract the WEP keys of an active network. In its place, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) was suggested.
At the start of the twenty-first century, security experts discovered they could easily break WEP, and the FBI exposed how vulnerable WEP was. In 2004, the Wi-Fi Alliance formally deprecated WEP in favor of WPA, and in the same year, WPA2 was introduced as a more secure replacement. In 2018, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced the launch of the most recent version of WPA, WPA3.
How Does Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) Work?
WEP utilizes 64-bit and 128-bit keys, whereas WPA used 256-bit keys. It becomes harder for a hacker to crack a longer key. Regardless of how powerful a computer is, it requires at least a few hours to decode a WPA key, so most hackers won’t try unless they’re desperate to get into a network.
Despite the increased security, WPA was found to contain a security flaw: it utilized the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol or TKIP. There were still a significant number of Wi-Fi devices utilizing WEP, so TKIP was meant to facilitate their firmware upgrading to WPA. TKIP proved to be, unfortunately, just as simple to crack.
For this reason, a new encryption protocol was necessary, and WPA2 replaced WPA. The most notable distinction is that it employs AES or Advanced Encryption Standard. CCMP, or the Counter Mode Cipher Block Chaining Message Authentication Code Protocol, is used to implement AES. The addition of AES makes WPA2’s encryption significantly more difficult to crack.
(Also Read: What is Network Security?)
What Are the Key Features of WPA?
By now, you know all about the first generations of WPA, their key features (authentication and encryption), and how they work. However, cybercriminals are always getting smarter – looking for new ways to circumvent security mechanisms. Similarly, there was a rise in the incidence of a new threat called Key Reinstallation Attacks (KRACK). It compromises the WPA2 protocol by requiring nonce reuse in Wi-Fi encryption techniques. That’s why the more advanced security standard – WPA3 – was needed.
It took 14 years after the introduction of WPA2 for its replacement to be introduced. In 2018, however, WPA3 was launched. In general, WPA3 encryption and implementation are much more robust. Its key features are as follows:
1. No more shared passwords
WPA3 registers a new device on a public network using a procedure other than a common password. This enables personalized data encryption. WPA3 employs a Wi-Fi Device Provisioning Protocol (DPP) protocol that allows users to add devices to the network via Near Field Communication (NFC) tags and QR codes. Additionally, WPA3 security employs GCMP-256 encryption as opposed to 128-bit encryption.
2. The use of the Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE) protocol
This is utilized to create a secure handshake in which a network device connects to a wireless access point, and both devices verify authentication and connectivity. Using Wi-Fi DPP, WPA3 delivers a much more secure handshake, even if a user’s password is insecure and vulnerable.
4. Protection from brute force attacks
A brute force attack is a type of hacking that use automated trial and error to break passwords, login information, and encryption keys. WPA3 defends systems against offline password guesswork by restricting the number of tries to one, requiring the user to engage directly with the Wi-Fi equipment. This would need their personal presence each time they attempt to figure out the password.
WPA2 lacks encryption and privacy on open public connections, rendering brute force assaults a serious risk.
How to Go About Implementing WPA?
WPA can be implemented in one of two modes — pre-shared Key (PSK) mode for home Wi-Fi networks and enterprise mode. For the latter, you will want to use Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 Enterprise (WPA2-Enterprise). This is because, despite being around for several years, WPA3 is not available in all regions or device variants, particularly for enterprise use cases.
WPA2 Enterprise implementation includes:
- Installing a RADIUS server: The authentication server is the RADIUS (remote authentication dial-in user service) gateway carrying out the authentication. The authenticator is the instrument at the access point layer, like a laptop or smartphone. There are several commercial and open-source RADIUS server options available, such as Windows Server and FreeRadius.
- Configuring access points with encryption and RADIUS server information: When connecting to a network, users must enter their login credentials. The real encryption keys are not accessible to them, nor are they retained on the device. This secures the wireless network from exiting staff and misplaced gadgets.
- Configuring your operating system with encryption and IEEE 802.1x settings: The steps required to configure your operating system with IEEE 802.1x depend on the server and client specifications. Consult the manufacturers of your equipment and software for guidance.
- Then, connecting to your secure wireless enterprise: The network is now prepared for staff use. You may also secure devices en masse across the enterprise’s wireless network.
Is WPA3 Fool-Proof? Considerations for IT Decision Makers
Although WPA3 is a major advancement, it has exhibited flaws during its first years of existence. For example, WPA3’s handshake procedure is susceptible to password partitioning assaults, that might allow network intruders to obtain passcodes and phrases using side-channel attacks in certain scenarios.
Some technologies cannot implement WPA3 standards even with fixes unless their associated communications and network infrastructure also support this enhanced protocol. This lack of current interconnectivity and compatibility can cause security vulnerabilities and minimize widespread enterprise adoption of WPA3-capable technology.
Managers should maintain all network components updated with the most recent and sophisticated security patches to ensure that any weaknesses can be found and handled. Ultimately, you must stay abreast of new technological developments that will continue impacting the overall Wi-Fi landscape. And, don’t forget to explore the benefits of an automated security system for your organization.