WPA – maybe you’ve heard about it, or maybe it’s another unfamiliar acronym to you. Regardless, it’s an important function to learn more about to protect your home network security. WPA is a wireless encryption method used to protect wireless networks from attacks. In this blog, we'll introduce you to Wi-Fi security 101 and take an in-depth look into the newest and most advanced wireless encryption type, WPA3.
Before we jump into the technical terms of wireless encryption, have you seen this before when connecting to a network?
You may wonder, what is TKIP AES WPA, all these letters are confusing! Here, we'll make it much less confusing and help you understand what these terms mean, and how should you choose to protect the wireless network.
Wired Beginnings - WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy)
IEEE 802.11 introduced WEP to cyberspace in 1999 as the earliest wireless encryption. As you may tell from the full name, Wired Equivalent Privacy, it was originally used for wired security protection. Inevitably, when it was adopted for wireless security, it was not secure and easily hackable. For our modern readers, we don't recommend selecting WEP as a security method as it’s less-developed and easily compromised.
WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access)
By 2003, WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) replaced WEP encryption to strengthen wireless security. Some of the significant changes include the introduction of TKIP, which stands for Temporal Key Integrity Protocol, if you remember the picture from the beginning of this blog. Certain device manufacturers have since dubbed this protocol weak and do not encourage to use it in recent years. Even though it is a giant leap over WEP, it must recycle certain WEP elements for an easy firmware upgrade. In other words, it still contains elements that are vulnerable to wireless networks.
Just a year later in 2004, a more secure and complex encryption level, WPA2, was developed. In order to equip this method with more robust protection measures, the Wi-Fi alliance forced the adoption of AES, or the Advanced Encryption Standard, in WPA2. This increased security exponentially, and fun fact, it was so secure that the US government adopted it for data security at that time.
WPA3, the next generation
The Wi-Fi Alliance has never stopped striving to improve, and wireless security must keep up with the breakthrough of the latest Wi-Fi 6 and 6E standards. In 2020, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced the next leap of security to WPA3 and introduced the world to WPA3-Enterprise and WPA3-Personal.
What are the changes in WPA3-Personal that make it the most advanced security protocol yet? Let’s provide three general pointers for you to understand better:
- It uses 128-bit encryption that would take billions of years to brute-force. Compared to WEP, which only uses 40-bit encryption, you can get a rough grasp of the security level.
- It provides a secure and practical way to authenticate network access without passwords (yes, that means no more remembering passwords likes “password” or “12345678”!). Instead, WPA3 uses the Wi-Fi Device Provisioning Protocol (DPP) that allows users to use QR codes or NFC tags to sign on to a network
- It protects users from using open networks in places like cafés and restaurants, where we’re used to enabling VPN’s or secured HTTPS to protect the network. With WPA3, each individual gadget connected to an unsecured internet connection is encrypted, making it more difficult for data to be stolen.
Sometimes you’ll be able to see mixed encryption options such as WPA/WPA2 and WPA2/WPA3 such as in Mercku’s M6 configuration page below. Since some old devices aren’t capable to utilize WPA2 or WPA3 protocols, the mixed options provide an inclusive passthrough encryption level for all devices. If you wonder which client devices support WPA2 or WPA3, please go to the tech spec page or FAQ page of these specific devices to find out.
We strongly recommend you select WPA3, WPA2, or WPA2/WPA3 protocols to better protect your wireless network and your personal data from malware and hacker attacks!
What to learn more about band steering and device prioritizing? Read our band steering blog and find more!
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