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What is WPA3, and what are the differences with WPA2?

What is WPA3?

WPA3 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 3) is the latest security update from the Wi-Fi Alliance aimed at making wireless networks more secure. There are two primary forms of WPA3: WPA3-Personal and WPA3-Enterprise, along with a feature called Wi-Fi Enhanced Open that improves security for public hotspots where typically no passwords are used.

WPA3 support is required for Wi-Fi 6 devices but it is also available on some Wi-Fi 5 APs or Clients. Key improvements include:

  • Stronger Encryption Levels: WPA3-Personal adds over 128-bit encryption that is tougher to crack than the previous standard, enhancing privacy and security.
  • Upgraded Encryption for Businesses: WPA3-Enterprise uses even stronger 192-bit encryption to protect sensitive data.
  • Better Authentication Framework: WPA3 introduces Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE), replacing the weaker Pre-shared Key (PSK) of WPA2, which makes it harder for hackers to steal passwords.
  • Protected Management Frames (PMF): This feature protects the network management tools from being hijacked by attackers.
  • More Robust Algorithm: WPA3 uses a heavier GCMP-256 encryption method which requires more computing power, but significantly boosts data protection.

In simple terms, WPA3 provides stronger security measures to keep personal and business networks safer from attacks.

WPA2 vs. WPA3

When comparing WPA2 and WPA3, the enhancements in WPA3 security are clear, especially in encryption and user authentication:

  • Encryption Upgrades: WPA3 uses GCMP-256 encryption, which is more robust than WPA2’s 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). This advanced encryption includes capabilities for individualized data encryption, improving user data security even on public networks.
  • User Authentication: WPA2’s Pre-Shared Key (PSK) method is replaced in WPA3 by a more secure practice known as the Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE). SAE eliminates vulnerabilities associated with the four-way handshake (previously unprotected in WPA2), significantly enhancing protection against password guessing attacks.
  • Protection in Open Networks: WPA3 introduces mechanisms such as Opportunistic Wireless Encryption (OWE) for public networks, which provides individualized data encryption without the need for a complex setup or user interaction. This raises security when individuals connect to open Wi-Fi networks.

The Importance of WPA3

The implementation of WPA3 security is crucial for several reasons:

  • Enhanced Data Protection: Its robust encryption for both private and public networks prevent unauthorized data interception, ensuring user data remains confidential and secure.
  • Secure Connection Establishment: The Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE) prevents attackers from decrypting and possibly reusing passwords, expanding threat protection.
  • Adaptability and Flexibility: Features like Device Provisioning Protocol (DPP) simplify the setup for IoT devices and secure connections via methods such as QR codes or NFC, promoting a wider adoption of secure network practices.

Backward Compatibility with WPA2

One of the biggest challenges facing WPA3 is its backward compatibility with WPA2 devices. While newer devices are increasingly featuring dual support for WPA2 and WPA3, older devices may not benefit from the enhanced security features provided by WPA3 unless they undergo hardware upgrades or replacements. Network environments will need to operate in a transitional mode that accommodates both WPA3 and WPA2 devices. This dual support helps make sure that all devices can still connect to the network as older devices are gradually replaced or updated.

Overall, WPA3 security is a significant advancement in securing wireless networks, addressing past weaknesses and setting a higher standard for network security moving forward.

Author Bio –
Product Manager – Wireless

Julio Petrovitch is a product manager at NetAlly, plus a certified CWNA/CWAP/CWDP/CWSP. He’s worked with network design, testing and validation for more than 15 years. Throughout he’s career he has had the opportunity to work with multiple networking technologies, including POTS, DSL, Copper/Fiber Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and BLE.

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