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WPA3 Brings New Authentication and Encryption to Wi-Fi

The Wi-Fi Alliance officially launches its latest protocol, which offers new capabilities for personal, enterprise, and IoT wireless networks.

Wi-Fi connections soon will become easier to secure with a newly available security protocol from the Wi-Fi Alliance.

WPA3 is the latest version of Wi-Fi Protected Access, a suite of protocols and technologies that provide authentication and encryption for Wi-Fi networks. WPA3, which was first announced earlier this year, is now available for inclusion in products. It brings two deployment models, personal and enterprise, along with a related security set called Easy Connect.

Kevin Robinson, vice president of marketing for the Wi-Fi Alliance, says WPA3 is intended to meet the security needs of wireless users in a security landscape that has become very dynamic. "WPA3 simplifies configuration and adds more authentication and increased cryptographic levels," Robinson says.

The primary enhancement to WPA3 Personal is in the authentication process, where WPA3 makes brute-force dictionary attacks much more difficult and time-consuming for an attacker. "For every guess at a password the attacker has to interact with the network," Robinson explains.

WPA3 Personal authentication is a process called a simultaneous authentication of equals (SAE), which comes from the IETF Dragonfly key exchange. Robinson says that with SAE, the authentication requires interaction, and only after authentication will the keys be generated. This makes attacks that depend on cloud-based server farms and automated key attempts unavailable to attackers.

WPA3 Enterprise provides 192-bit encryption, critical for Wi-Fi networks handling sensitive personal or intellectual property data. In addition, both WPA3 flavors disallow certain previous encryption algorithms while still providing a path for transition to the new standard. "You do have to think about how to transition. [The standard does] define a transition network, but they only allow WPA2 to blend with WPA3," he says.

While WPA3 Personal and Enterprise will see primary deployment for end devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones, IoT devices get their own new security with Easy Connect. This standard allows a device with a rich user interface to on-board devices with no UI. For example, a tablet or phone can be used to bring Web cams onto the network.

Robinson says that in a typical device enrollment, the new device will come with QR code, which the administrator will scan with a phone. The phone then "introduces" the IoT device to the network.

Asked about large-scale device enrollment, Robinson says that Easy Connect is scalable so that devices can be batch-introduced to the network. Easy Connect supports WPA2 and WPA3 networks and has provisions for future enhancements such as individual device management through the standard.

Robinson says that, as adoption grows, WPA3 will become mandatory in certified equipment. "Right now, WPA2 is mandatory, with WPA3 optional," he says though he expects that, by late 2019, there will be near-universal adoption of WPA3. 

Roughly 3 billion devices connect to a Wi-Fi network each year, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance.

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Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

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