Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)

Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) was designed by the Wi-Fi Alliance as a temporary security solution to provide for the use of 802.1x and enhancements in the use of WEP until the 802.11i standard would be ratified. This protocol was created in response to several serious weaknesses researchers had found in the previous system, Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). Authentication is handled by 802.1x and TKIP is used with WEP; however, the TKIP used by WPA is not compatible with Cisco’s older and proprietary form of TKIP. WPA can operate in two modes: personal and enterprise mode. Personal mode was designed for home or SOHO usage. A pre-shared key is used for authentication, requiring you to configure the same key on the clients and the AP. With this mode, no authentication server is necessary as it is in the official 802.1x standard. Enterprise mode is meant for large companies, where an authentication server will centralize the authentication credentials of the clients. TKIP could be implemented on pre-WPA wireless network interface cards that began shipping as far back as 1999 through firmware upgrades. Because the changes required fewer modifications on the client than on the wireless access point, most pre-2003 APs could not be upgraded to support WPA with TKIP. Researchers have since discovered a flaw in TKIP that relied on older weaknesses to retrieve the keystream from short packets to use for re-injection and spoofing.
WPA2 is the IEEE 802.11i implementation from the Wi-Fi Alliance. Instead of using WEP, which uses the weak RC4 encryption algorithm, the much more secure Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)–counter mode CBC-MAC Protocol (CCMP) algorithm is used. WPA2 implements the mandatory elements of 802.11i. In particular, it introduces a new AES-based algorithm, CCMP, which is considered fully secure. Certification began in September, 2004; from March 13, 2006, WPA2 certification is mandatory for all new devices to bear the Wi-Fi trademark. AES is used for encryption with a 128-bit key. AES-CCMP incorporates two cryptographic techniques—counter mode and CBC-MAC—and adapts them to wireless frames to provide a robust security protocol between the client and AP. Most newer Wi-Fi CERTIFIED devices support the security protocols discussed above, out-of-the-box, as compliance with this protocol has been required for a Wi-Fi certification since September 2003.

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