WPA3 is the magic number? Protocol refresh promises tighter Wi-Fi security

Routers shipping with standard soon so don't get WEP behind

Wi-fi symbol made out of clouds. Photo by Shutterstock

The Wi-Fi Alliance has taken the wraps off the latest generation of Wi-Fi security, WPA3.

Delivered on Monday, the security protocol brings new and improved authentication and encryption to wireless networks. Both home and enterprise networks stand to benefit from the upgrade.

The revamp includes Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE), a more secure key establishment protocol between devices. The handshaking protocol provides stronger protections against password guessing attempts. WPA3-Personal equates to a "more resilient, password-based authentication even when users choose passwords that fall short of typical complexity recommendations", the Wi-Fi Alliance said.

WPA3-Enterprise also offers the equivalent of 192-bit cryptographic strength, providing additional protections for networks transmitting sensitive data by offering bigger session key sizes that are harder to crack. Protected Management Frames are designed to hinder de-authentication attacks.

Security experts welcomed the overhaul.

Professor Alan Woodward, a computer scientist at the University of Surrey in England, told The Register:

"The use of the new form of authentication (which is a sort of Diffie Hellman-based system using a password) has been something that we've seen in mesh networking before but its use in Wi-Fi does remove one of the more successful attacks where offline attempts could be made to guess passwords. Add to that the extra strength from the new key lengths being introduced and I think we're seeing a significant step forward."

The protocol had been proposed a while ago but its official launch means routers shipping with the technology will soon become standard. The Wi-Fi Alliance's announcement was accompanied by endorsements from a variety of IT giants including Cisco, Intel and Broadcom.

As the Wi-Fi industry transitions to WPA3 security, WPA2 devices will interoperate through a "transitional mode of operation".

"The success of this will obviously depend on the implementation of the new standard," Woodward said. "As ever that's where it most often goes wrong. For example, we need to make sure that we don't allow systems to be fooled into reverting back to previous standards in order to preserve backward compatibility.

"Although the new standard is a good step forward there will inevitably be a long tail of devices that don't get updated and hence remain vulnerable. Just think that WEP is still in use by some."

The Wi-Fi Alliance also introduced Wi-Fi-certified Easy Connect, which makes it easier to connect IoT things (with limited or no display interface) to Wi-Fi networks while maintaining security by using another device, such as a smartphone, to scan a product's quick response (QR) code. ®

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