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WPA2 AES vs. TKIP

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  • 0:03 Temporary Key…
  • 3:06 Advanced Encryption Standard
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Delony

David is a freelance writer specializing in technology. He holds a BA in communication.

The old WEP standard has long been overtaken by WPA2 and its encryption standards. In this lesson, you'll learn about the differences between the AES and TKIP encryption standards and why AES is better than the older TKIP standard when setting up secure Wi-Fi networks.

Temporary Key Integrity Protocol

If you dig around in the settings of your Wi-Fi router, you might be faced with a choice over whether to use TKIP or AES with your network. While both standards are a vast improvement over the older WEP standard, there are some important differences.

To see the differences in action, we'll look at Bob, a freelance IT consultant. He's been hired to install a Wi-Fi network for a small office. This small law office will support people needing to use their laptops, tablets, and smartphones to connect. Since their work involves handling confidential information, security is a real concern. Let's follow him as he sets up the new router.

TKIP, or Temporary Key Integrity Protocol, is an encryption method that was intended to replace the older Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP. WEP was the encryption standard used on early Wi-Fi equipment that came on the market in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The first thing Bob does when opening up the Wi-Fi settings is look at the encryption method the network is using. He sees TKIP and WEP listed as two of the options, but as a professional he knows that he shouldn't use either of them.

WEP, while intending to maintain security over Wi-Fi networks by encrypting the traffic that flowed across them, turned out to be trivially easy to crack. This meant that it would take no effort at all for a hacker to see everything on the network: username, passwords, the contents of emails and instant messages. This is obviously a big problem, especially on public networks.

For this reason, the Wi-Fi Alliance in 2003 officially deprecated WEP in favor of WPA. This meant that it wasn't recommended for use anymore, but it was still available. Modern Wi-Fi devices still support WEP.

If WEP is so insecure, why do so many routers still list it as an option? The simple reason is backward compatibility. Even though Wi-Fi was relatively new, there were already a lot of devices running WEP. It would have been too expensive for businesses and consumers to get rid of their old devices.

The first version of WPA used TKIP as a way to ensure that these devices would be able to be migrated from WEP to the newer, more secure standard. While this was a great idea in theory, in practice the backward compatibility with WEP devices lead to even more security headaches that lead to it being deprecated as well.

One advantage TKIP has over WEP is that it encrypts every packet with a unique key, meaning that if an attacker does decrypt one packet, the rest of the stream is useless. It takes some effort just to decrypt the key for one packet, and doing so for all the traffic would take a long time.

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