Wi-Fi Security: What is WPA3 and why should you upgrade?

Wi-Fi shares the same space as the air you breathe. You use it at home and at work, at the local cafe and even on long-haul flights. Wi-Fi is everywhere and as of today, Wi-Fi received its first security update since 2007.

Having to wait more than ten years to bolster the security of a technology that underpins almost everything we do isn’t that much of a big deal, is it?

It’s not as though 59% of us use Wi-Fi to check our personal email or that 29% of us use Wi-Fi to access banking services (Source: Symantec, 2017 “Norton Wi-Fi Risk Report“).

How safe do you feel your personal information is when using public Wi-Fi connections?

The truth is, we’ll sooner notice when we’re not connected to Wi-Fi than when we are.

Back in 2014, IC Insights released a study that predicted 4.91 billion shipments of Wi-Fi-enabled equipment globally by 2017. That’s 0.65 devices for every person on the planet.

But the future had different plans.

Less than two years later in January 2016, the Wi-Fi Alliance (a group of companies who coined the term and maintain the technology) confirmed that shipments of Wi-Fi enabled devices reached 12 billion units – with volumes expected to exceed 15 billion units (2 for every person) by the end of that same year.

Today, the technology landscape is somewhat alien compared to what it was back in 2007. Not only are there more Wi-Fi enabled devices, but the devices themselves, the way we use them and therefore the demands we have of Wi-Fi as a technology are far more complex.

This complexity brings about its own challenges, including the way we think about security. Needless to say, today’s announcement could have come much sooner.

What is WPA3?

If you’ve ever had to use a password to connect to Wi-Fi, you’ve used WPA (“Wi-Fi Protected Access”). WPA is the security standard designed to control access to your network (with passwords) and the flow of information between Wi-Fi devices when they talk to each other.

WPA3 is the latest version of WPA and it’s a fundamental change to the way that Wi-Fi works behind the scenes.

Benefit: Better password protection

WPA3 makes it hard for intruders to get into your network, even if your Wi-Fi password is weak.

With today’s WPA2, your Wi-Fi connection is only as secure as your password. This is problematic because secure passwords are complex and complex passwords aren’t memorable.

Raise your hand if your password is “password”. Now keep it raised if it’s written on a Post-It Note stuck to your computer screen. I thought so.

Hackers have been known to use dictionary attacks in order to crack our Wi-Fi passwords and gain access to corporate networks. These attacks work by using a huge bank of words (and combinations of words) until one works. Not anymore.

Benefit: Better connections

WPA3 means that all Wi-Fi connections are secured with the equivalent of 192-bit encryption, whether a password is used or not.

Whilst this doesn’t prevent unauthorised access to a network, it does make it incredibly difficult for prying eyes to see the data that flows between Wi-Fi enabled devices.

For organisations that work with highly sensitive information (like governments or financial institutions), this is a huge benefit.

Benefit: Better for the Internet of Things

“The Internet of Things (IoT) connects the physical world to the Internet.” – AWS IoT

If you’re not sure what IoT is, you just need to look at devices like the Amazon Echo, smart fridges or Tesla cars. The rise of these connected devices has been meteoric and is projected to continue growing along the same trajectory.

Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices installed base worldwide from 2015 to 2025 (in billions)

WPA2 was released in 2007. It’s not designed for today’s connected world (with vulnerabilities that go back to 2011), let alone toasters that use the internet.

WPA3 seeks to change this with the introduction of Wi-Fi Certified Easy Connect; a technology built into WPA3 that makes it simpler and more secure to connect devices without screens to a Wi-Fi network.

How do I get WPA3?

Unfortunately, getting your hands on WPA3 isn’t as simple as a software update.

In order to use WPA3, both your wireless access points and the devices that connect to them must support the new standard. In simple terms, this means that the entire ecosystem of manufacturers must embrace WPA3 before we see it used effectively in the wild.

However, if the Wi-Fi Alliance’s press release is anything to go by, the good news is that WPA3 appears to come with resounding support from the industry.

For Tekspace clients, we’ll be in touch to let you know when suppliers have released support for the new standard and guide you through the upgrade process. For everyone else, subscribe and stay tuned.