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Wireless networks come with unique, inherent security issues and they are considered more vulnerable than the wired one. Wi-Fi is one of the most popular kind of wireless networks that exists today; unfortunately, it isn’t the most secure one. To ensure security and integrity of Wi-Fi networks, different protocols are developed and upgraded over time. Through this article, we are going to bring the four available Wi-Fi security protocols into discussion.

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Wi-Fi Security Protocols - Explained

If you try to get your device registered onto your wireless network access point or wireless router, you will be allowed to proceed, only after passing a security check. Generally speaking, all the WLAN devices present four type of security protocols; WEP, WPA, WPA2 and WPA3. You, as your domestic network administrator can choose the most appropriate type of security protocol for your domestic wireless network. However, for choosing the right type of protocol you must learn about the available choices.

The First Wi-Fi Security Protocol - WEP

WEP got ratified as a security standard in September 1999 and it was the first Wi-Fi security protocol. WEP was designed and expected to provide the same kind of security coverage as Ethernet. At that time Wi-Fi devices were used to support 64-bit encryption only. However, even after the inception of 128-bit encryption the security issues in WEP remained as such. WEP uses Rivest Cipher 4 algorithm for the encryption of data and it was offered as the default security protocol by most routers.  The inherent flaws in WEP made it keys easy to crack for hackers. That’s why, the need of a stronger security protocol for Wi-Fi was felt among all stakeholders soon after the inception of WEP. In 2004 WEP the use of WEP was discontinued because of its security flaws.

 

WPA - A Supplement for WEP

By 2003, the weakness of WEP was no longer a secret and the Wi-Fi Alliance adapted WPA as a replacement for vulnerable WEP. 256-bit encryption is the most applauded feature in WPA that is way more robust than the 128-bit and 64-bit encryption offered by WEP. The WPA standard has two modes; WPA-Personal and WPA-Enterprise. Different encryption methods are utilized for different modes. The RC4 algorithm used in WEP was replaced by TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) in WPA for better cryptographic performance.

WPA comes with message integrity checks – a feature provided to determine whether the packets passed through the wireless network (Wi-Fi) have been modified. WPA was only an ad-hoc solution that was brought in to replace WEP; before a more complex and secure wireless system can be designed, tested and adapted. Undoubtedly, WPA was better than its predecessor however at various occasions it got proved that the WPA can also be intruded.

WPA-2, Enhanced Version of the WPA

WPA2 is a security protocol and it was launched as a replacement for WPA. This protocol comes featured with AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) algorithm. WPA2 was ratified in 2004. In place of TKIP which was used in earlier security protocols CCMP is incorporated in WPA2 – a feature to ensure the integrity of data packets being transmitted over wireless networks.

The improved security features of the WPA2 made it an ultimate choice, especially for small-scale home networks. WPA2 can withstand most cyber-attacks because it has adequate anti-intrusion elements. However, the WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) is a known vulnerability of WPA2 as it was for WPA. Users concerned about this vulnerability can avoid potential cyber attacks by disabling the WPS.

WPA3 - the Latest Wi-Fi Security Standard

WPA3 was introduced by the Wi-Fi Alliance back in 2018. This protocol is designed to bring ultimate wireless networking security for consumers through increased cryptographic strength and robust authentication. One aim of the developers of WPA3 was simplification. WPA3 can be considered as an ideal solution for public Wi-Fi consumers as it encrypts the connection automatically. WPA3 is a new standard, relatively and its security performance is yet to be established. However, according to most network experts, WPA3 has the ability to cater with the flaws in previously launched versions. You can increase your network more resistant to offline dictionary attacks by using WPA3.

WEP Vs. WPA Vs. WPA2 Vs. WPA3

From the above-mentioned facts, one thing is clear that from WEP to WPA3, each security protocol came with an improvement over its predecessors. Wi-Fi Alliance is the organization that works on the development of wireless network security protocols. The following chart is exhibiting some summarized information n about the core differences between different type of wireless security protocols.

As it can be seen from the chart above, a unique encryption method is used in each security protocol. RC4 algorithm is used in WEP. RC4 is considered as a weak algorithm as it uses small keys. WPA was launched to replace WEP and to deal with the vulnerabilities of Wi-Fi networks. TKIP – a much better algorithm than RC4 is used by WPA.

Later, WPA2 was launched with AES-CCMP, a more powerful encryption system than TKIP and RC4. Session key size is another important parameter to be discussed here. The first Wi-Fi security protocol (WEP) was designed to operate with 40-bit encryption. However, this vulnerability was addressed in WAP as 40-bit encryption was replaced with 128-bit encryption. The newly launched WAP3 can operate with 192-bit session key size in enterprise mode. It is important to understand that the level of efforts required to crack a wireless network password increase as we increase key bit size.

the imperfect four-way handshake mechanism in the WPA and WPA2 has now been replaced with a much more efficient and faster handshake mechanism in WPA3. The handshake mechanism used in WPA3 is called Simultaneous Authentication of Equals Handshake.

Conclusion

  • Wi-Fi and other wireless networks remain prone to cyber-attacks
  • The most advanced Wi-Fi Security protocol available today is WPA3
  • WPA3 addresses all the vulnerabilities of WPA and WPA2
  • WEP was the first Wi-Fi security protocol but it was dropped in 2004 because of its inherent security flaws
  • You can ensure your online privacy and security by using up-to-date hardware that supports WPA3 preferably or at least WPA2.