Wi-Fi security gets an overhaul: What you need to know about WPA3

26 Jun 2018

Image: Maxx-Studio/Shutterstock

WPA3 is the first successor to the WPA2 security protocol that came out in 2004.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has officially begun certifying products that support WPA3, the successor to the longstanding WPA2 security protocol.

The world has changed a lot since 2004 when most people were still only getting to grips with Wi-Fi. Most PCs back then didn’t have Wi-Fi built in and, in most cases, people used dongles or PCMCIA cards to enjoy Wi-Fi.

In fact, many internet service providers made the rookie mistake of issuing Wi-Fi routers with lax security and poor password protection to early broadband users.

Hackers were quicker to adapt to Wi-Fi than most punters, and ‘wardriving’ became a thing whereby they would sit outside buildings to snoop on unsecured networks. Now they are more evolved and, by capturing a sample of your Wi-Fi data remotely, can figure out ways inside your private wireless network and ultimately your digital life through the festoon of internet of things (IoT) gadgets that adorn most homes now.

So, what’s new with WPA3?

It will be much harder for hackers to crack your password

The new protocol creates a mechanism that prevents hackers from getting their hands on your password by sheer guesswork or through brute force attacks. Not only that but, even if they’ve uncovered the password, they will have limited access because they are not you. This is possible through what is known as Simultaneous Authentication of Equals.

The new protocol comes with enterprise security for government and business networks that will be equal to 192-bit encryption.

One method used by hackers was where they would capture data from your Wi-Fi stream and, using a private computer, run simulations over and over to finally guess your password.

Now they will have to interact with a live Wi-Fi device in order to make a guess and, with devices set up to protect against repeat guesses, it will be nigh on impossible for them to keep up.

It will be easier to set up smart home devices

The protocol comes with an easy-connect option that enables users to set up devices via their smartphone – this will be handy for devices that have tiny screens or no displays at all.

What will happen to my existing Wi-Fi devices?

Nothing, right now. Gadgets will continue to function as normal.

WPA2 will remain interoperable but WPA3 support will eventually become mandatory on any device certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

It is likely companies will introduce the new protocol through patches or as they roll out new hardware products.

These new hardware products will most likely boast the next generation of Wi-Fi 802.11ax, which will be faster and is envisaged to perform better in environments where there are lots and lots of Wi-Fi devices active at the same time – which is pretty much your average home or office today. 802.11ax will start to appear on Intel chipsets this year.

And, even though the Wi-Fi Alliance is only releasing the new protocol today (26 June), it doesn’t expect broad adoption until 2019.

Either way, it is good to see a long-overdue overhaul of a protocol for securing a technology that is pretty much all-pervasive.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years