What is WPA?
Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is a security standard for computing devices equipped with wireless internet connections. WPA was developed by the Wifi alliance to provide more sophisticated data encryption and better user authentication than Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), the original Wi-Fi security standard.
WPA was initially released in 2003. The Wi-Fi Alliance defined WPA as a response to serious weaknesses found in the WEP protocol. A more secure version, WPA2, was released in 2004. In 2018, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced the release of WPA’s third and current version, WPA3.
WPA works using discrete modes for enterprise and personal use. The most recent enterprise mode, WPA-EAP, uses a stringent 802.1x authentication. The latest personal mode, WPA-PSK, uses Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE) to create a secure handshake.
How It Works
WPA operates in either WPA-PSK mode (a.k.a. Pre-Shared Key or WPA-Personal) or WPA-802.1x mode (a.k.a. RADIUS or WPA-Enterprise). In the Personal mode, a pre-shared key or passphrase is used for authentication. In the Enterprise mode, which is more difficult to configure, the 802.1 x RADIUS servers and an Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) are used for authentication. The enhanced WPA2 uses Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) instead of Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) to provide stronger encryption mechanism.
WPA-PSK isn’t much more difficult to configure than the older WEP, but still isn’t available on some older products. All computers, access points, and wireless adapters must use the same type of security.
Facts About WPA
- To use WPA, all computers, access points and wireless adapters must have WPA software.
- WPA was introduced in 2003. To run WPA between two computers, both must have WPA software, as well as all access points and wireless adapters between them. Equipment older than 2003 will often not be upgradable.
- WPA offers two significant advantages over WEP:
- An encryption key differing in every packet. The TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) mechanism shares a starting key between devices. Each device then changes its encryption key for every packet. It’s extremely difficult for hackers to read messages – even if they’ve intercepted the data.
- Certificate Authentication (CA) can be used, blocking a hacker’s access posing as a valid user.
- WPA computers will communicate with WEP encryption, if they can’t use WPA with a particular device.
- A Certificate Authority Server is part of the recommended configuration, to allow WPA computers assurance that the computers with whom they share keys are who they claim to be.
- Since WPA adds to packet size, transmission takes longer. The encryption and decryption are slower for devices using software instead of dedicated WPA hardware.
- The EAP types supported by WPA-Enterprise are:
- PEAPv1/EAP-GTC (Cisco-based implementation)
Why was Wi-Fi Protected Access WPA developed?
Wi-Fi Protected Access is a Wi-Fi security technology developed in response to the weaknesses of Wired Equivalent Privacy standards. It improves upon WEP’s authentication and encryption features. WPA2, in turn, is an upgraded form of WPA; since 2006, every Wi-Fi-certified product must use it.
WPA provides stronger encryption than WEP using either of two standard technologies: Temporal key integrity protocol and advanced encryption standard. WPA also includes built-in authentication support that WEP does not.
Some implementations of WPA allow WEP client to connect to the network, too, but the security is then reduced to WEP levels for all connected devices.
WPA includes support for remote authentication dial-in user service servers. In this setup, the server accesses device credentials so that users authenticate before they connect to the network. The server also holds extensible authentication protocol messages.
When a device successfully connects to a WPA network, keys generate using a four-way handshake that takes place with the access point (usually a router) and device.
When TKIP encryption is used, a message integrity code is included to make sure that the data is not spoofed. It replaces WEP’s weaker packet guarantee, which is called cyclic redundancy check
What Is WPA-PSK?
WPA Pre-Shared Key is a variation of WPA designed for home networks. It’s a simplified but still powerful form of WPA.
Similar to WEP, a static key or passphrase is set, but WPA-PSK uses TKIP. WPA-PSK automatically changes the keys at preset intervals to make it difficult for hackers to find and exploit them.
Working With WPA
You’ll see options for using WPA for connecting to a wireless network and when setting up a network for others to connect to. It was designed to be supported on pre-WPA devices such as those that use WEP, but some work only with WPA after a ffirmware upgrade. Others are simply incompatible.
WPA pre-shared keys are vulnerable to attack, even though the protocol is more secure than WEP. Your best defense is a passphrase that is strong enough to circumvent brute-force attacks
- How do I find my WPA key for my router?Your wireless network’s name (SSID) and the key is usually printed on the bottom of your router. The network name and key shouldn’t be confused with the username and password, which are needed to access the router settings. If the WPA key has been changed, reset your router to return the key to the default.
- What is the difference between WPA vs. WPA2 vs. WPA3?The major Difference between WPA and WPA2 is that WPA2 offers superior encryption. The latest standard is WPA3, which offers enhanced security for open networks.
- How do I know if my router is WEP or WPA?On Windows 10, select the Wi-Fi icon in the taskbar, select Properties under the network you’re currently connected to, then look for the Security Type. On a Mac, hold down the Option key and select the Wi-Fi icon in the toolbar to see your network details. On Android, go to your Wi-Fi connections and tap the network to see its details.
Enabling WPA on Routers
WPA, or Wi-Fi Protected Access, is an encryption standard used on newer wireless routers to secure wireless data transmission. It was designed to replace the older, less-secure WEP standard and comes in two versions, WPA and WPA2. Many routers support the simultaneous usage of both versions, which helps maximize compatibility with wireless adapters. Having a secure wireless network is important, especially in business settings where a great deal of the data transmitted is sensitive in nature. Enable WPA or WPA2 on your wireless router to better secure your wireless network.
Open a Web browser on your computer, and type your router’s IP address into the address bar. Most routers use “192.168.0.1,” “192.168.1.1” or “192.168.2.1” as an IP address. Consult your router’s documentation if these IP addresses don’t work. When prompted, type your username and password to log in to your router’s configuration utility.
Click the “Wi-Fi,” “Wireless,” “Wireless Settings,” “Wireless Setup” or similarly named option from the configuration utility’s initial menu. Your wireless security options will now be displayed onscreen.
Select “WPA,” “WPA2” or “WPA + WPA2” in the “Security” or “Security Options” section of the page. Type a security key (also known as a “passphrase”) in the designated field, and click “Apply” or “Save” to enable WPA on your wireless router. Click the “Log Out” button to log out of the configuration utility.
Advantages of WPA
- Provides extremely strong wireless security.
- Adds authentication to WEP’s basic encryption.
- Offers backward-compatible WEP support for devices that aren’t upgraded.
- Integrates with RADIUS servers to allow administration, auditing and logging.
Disadvantages of WPA
- Except when using with the Pre-Shared key (WPA-PSK), complicated setup is required, unsuitable for typical home users.
- Older firmware usually will not be upgraded to support it.
- Incompatible with older operating systems such as Windows 95.
- Greater performance overhead than WEP.
- Remains vulnerable to Denial of Service attacks.
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