WPA vs. WPA2 Encryption

Instructor: Marcia Wert

Marcia has taught Information technology and Mathematics with a master's degree in IT

Explore how your router is protected from prying eyes and the hands of hackers. WPA and WPA2 are both methods to implement to block unsanctioned visitors from accessing your computer. Let's investigate their differences.

What is Encryption?

Credit card fraud and identity theft are on the rise! How can we trust any transactions that are electronic? We need to use the safest encryption method that is available! Let's investigate the differences among WPA and WPA2.

Encryption is based on the Greek word kryptos, which means hidden or secret. Encryption changes data so that it is hard to decipher. For example, during World War II, the Germans used the Enigma machine to send coded messages. The receiver had to know the exact code used by the sender to decipher messages. In a router, there are several methods to do that encryption.

WEP, or Wired Equivalent Privacy, was first introduced in 1999 but had several security problems. In 2003, IEEE, or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, a not-for-profit association that develops standards for electronic transmissions, developed a new encryption method.

WPA or Wi-Fi Protected Access

Due to WEP security flaws, WPA was the next encryption software to be introduced. There are several configurations such as enterprise and personal configurations. The most common WPA configuration for personal use is WPA-PSK (Pre-Shared Key). In other words, the key to decipher is first sent from the sender's router to the receiver's router. They are significantly larger than the 64 keys, or characters, of WEP. WPA transmits 256-bits to the receiver. Hence, it was more complicated for a hacker to decipher.

Another added feature in WPA was message integrity checks. It could be determined with these checks whether a hacker had seized or altered message packets passed between the client (receiver) and the sender. These message integrity checks are called Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP). Flaws in WPA were first realized less than a year after its release in 2003. It still used key modules inside of the code that were first implemented in 1999. To ensure security, TKIP was then replaced with AES algorithms in WPA2.

WPA2

In 2006, TKIP was superseded by the introduction of WPA2 with AES algorithms and CCMP (Counter Cipher Mode with Block Chaining Message Authentication Code Protocol) as a replacement for TKIP. However, TKIP still remains in WPA2 for compatibility with WPA. AES, or Advanced Encryption Standard algorithms, is a block ciphering encryption tool that resets itself after each block of data of fixed length (64,128,256 bits) is processed.

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