In our ever-connected world, the need for wireless security is at an all-time high! Wireless devices are more prevalent than ever, with the average person in the United States having access to more than 10 Wi-Fi-capable devices, according to a 2020 survey. It’s not just about browsing or entertainment, either. IoT devices, security systems, enterprise networking, and more require safe wireless connectivity to operate efficiently.
Despite best practices and robust security protocols, wireless security issues run rampant. Cyberattacks happen all of the time, leaving businesses and private users vulnerable to everything from identity theft to data breaches.
To combat those issues, the Wi-Fi Alliance developed a new security certification problem. Dubbed “WPA3,” it addresses the shortcomings of previous programs, bringing some much-needed updates to the world of wireless connectivity.
What is WPA3?
WPA stands for Wi-Fi Protected Access, a security certificate program first created by the Wi-Fi Alliance. The original security standard began in 2003. It was followed up by the second iteration, WPA2, in 2004.
These programs set the security standards for devices equipped with wireless internet capabilities. As mobile connectivity became more widespread at the turn of the century, WPA helped to make things safer for browsers. Some would argue that the standards improved accessibility, eliminating the need for complex user-facing measures.
The Wi-Fi Alliance set out to create more sophisticated data encryption measures and established better user authentication protocols. Their efforts paid off, as hardware-makers followed suit to adopt safety standards that made Wi-Fi available to the masses!
Of course, standards need to change as threats evolve. The third iteration of these certificate programs, WPA3, responds to the ever-growing presence of cybercriminals. It’s the first significant security improvement to Wi-Fi in about 14 years, making it a monumental change.
Not only does it help beef up security for individual, personal, and open networks, but it also addresses common issues faced by large-scale enterprise networks.
WPA3 was first announced in January of 2018. Several months later, the Wi-Fi Alliance’s program for WPA3—Personal and WPA3-Enterprise began. The Alliance also launched a couple of game-changing features to simplify the connection process.
Why Was It Developed?
Before WPA3 came to be, older versions of the security program were starting to show their age. WPA2 was a protocol that took full advantage of Advanced Standard Encryption. It effectively patched security holes that occurred in the original version of WPA. The newer encryption was seen as a much safer alternative than anything that came before it. As a result, it became the backbone of Wi-Fi security for over a decade!
Even with all the good it did, WPA2 had many security flaws. The encryption was vulnerable to brute-force attacks. Cybercriminals could easily crack passwords. Not only that, but they could snoop in on another network user’s traffic.
Those security flaws opened the floodgates, as hackers could easily capture necessary login credentials, steal data, and more.
WPA3 addresses the common security concerns head-on. It improves general Wi-Fi encryption, making networks tougher to crack.
How WPA3 Improves Wireless Security
The impact that WPA3 will have on wireless security is significant. Over a decade in the making, this program offers many upgrades that will change the face of Wi-Fi connectivity.
Simultaneous Authentication of Equals
As mentioned earlier, WPA3 improves general encryption while connected to Wi-Fi. It does this through Simultaneous Authentication of Equals, also known as SAE. Devices connecting to a network perform an exchange of information, establishing a solid cryptographic key to stay secure.
SAE is replacing Pre-Shared Key, which was the go-to form of encryption for WPA2.
The difference that SAE makes is substantial. While brute-force attacks can still occur with super-simple passwords, hackers will have a much harder time getting through. Even if they use dictionary-based efforts to go through every imaginable passcode combination, SAE holds up.
Another big perk of WPA3 and SAE is that encryption is more individualized. In the past, hackers could snoop on others connected to the network. They could also observe information exchanges to determine sessions keys and cause even more havoc.
By focusing on individualized encryption, SAE keeps every user safe. The positive ramifications aren’t exclusive to personal networks. They can also benefit those connecting to open Wi-Fi networks.
Wi-Fi Easy Connect
With the launch of WPA3, the Wi-Fi Alliance debuted Wi-Fi Easy Connect. This game-changing feature is poised to simplify the connection process. It’s an optional feature, but it could deliver unique benefits to particular applications.
Connecting to Wi-Fi is easy when you’re using a computer, tablet, or smartphone. But what if you’re using a display-less device?
This issue has posed significant problems for device-makers that specialize in wearables and IoT gadgets. Wi-Fi Easy Connect simplifies things tremendously, giving manufacturers more options for end-users. The program covers physical connection buttons and processes for scanning a QR code to use other devices to establish the connection.
Optional 192-Bit Security
Applications that require even more robust security measures can take advantage of some optional encryption. WPA3-Enterprise has an available 192-bit security layer. It’s ideal for larger organizations, as it offers advanced security across a litany of devices.
The 192-bit encryption mode is available for specific RADIUS server implementations. It’s set to become a standard for government entities, larger corporations, and other large-scale networks that deal with sensitive communication.
Wi-Fi Enhanced Open
WPA3’s impact on personal and enterprise networks is impressive on its own. But many security experts praise improvements to public network security the most. With the launch of WPA3 comes Wi-Fi Enhanced Open. It’s exclusively for open networks that don’t require a passphrase or passcode.
Using technology based on Opportunistic Wireless Encryption, Wi-Fi Enhanced Open will provide encryption between the access point and individual clients.
This means that others can’t snoop on your traffic or perform an attack while you’re connected. Gone are the days of worrying about experiencing session hijacking attacks or other security issues while using public Wi-Fi! It enhances safety across the board, making open networks a more viable option moving forward.
There’s no denying that WPA3 has a lot to offer private users, businesses, and large organizations. However, it will take a while for the security program to become standard. It takes time to adapt programs of this magnitude.
Manufacturers are already developing WPA3-capable devices. Vendors are also pushing updates to existing products. Even still, it may take several years to see it outside of the home. Private network owners have the means to make necessary hardware and software upgrades to ensure that all of their equipment is compatible with WPA3 Wi-Fi.
But, it’s a massive undertaking for larger organizations and open network owners. Open networks, in particular, will likely see the slowest adoption. Public Wi-Fi usually doesn’t produce revenue, making upgrades low on the list of priorities.
More WPA3 devices will hit the market soon. While it won’t lead to a mass exodus of WPA2 for the newest protocols, it may encourage holdouts to make the transition.
Along with slow adoption, security experts believe that WPA3 will cause users a false sense of security. While individualized encryption changes the game, open networks aren’t fully secure. WPA3 makes browsing on open networks a lot safer, but there’s still a lack of user authentication. As a result, issues can still occur.
Another significant issue is that users can’t see whether a network has WPA3 protection. Due to slow adoption, users are bound to encounter older security protocols. Unfortunately, some may assume that they’re protected when vulnerabilities persist.
Overall, the WPA3 security certificate program will have a positive impact on wireless security moving forward. It’s the most extensive security update to Wi-Fi in over a decade! As our reliance on wireless connectivity grows, it couldn’t have come at a better time.