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Wi-Fi Security: How WPA3 Improves the Wi-Fi Security of Educational Institutions to Prevent New Phishing and Malware Attacks

Securing Wi-Fi connections is indeed a critical step in protecting an organization’s network from malicious actors. By using WPA3, educational institutions can better protect their networks and the data transmitted over them. WPA3 provides enhanced encryption and authentication mechanisms, making it more difficult for threat actors to intercept and decrypt Wi-Fi traffic

With cloud-managed wireless architecture and the increasing use of IoT devices, many educational institutions today have various online functions. While it has its benefits, it also brings risks and challenges. Hence, wireless security has become highly significant. While passwords win you half the battle by ensuring authorized access, it does not secure the entire wireless network. Therefore, data encryption becomes crucial to determine the wireless network’s security. Besides, malicious actors are forever on the prowl to detect vulnerabilities in an institution’s wireless networks. Therefore, institutions need to implement robust wireless security controls, including but not limited to effective policies, standards, and protocols that can safeguard their valuable and sensitive information assets.

Know About Different Types of Wireless Security Protocols

Wireless security concerns data traffic over the air between wireless devices. It includes communications between wireless access points (APs) and the controller device and between the access points and the various endpoint devices connected to the Wi-Fi network. Generally, four encryption standards are prevalent in the industry.

Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP): WEP was the first encryption algorithm developed by Wi-Fi Alliance for the 802.11 standards. The primary objective was to prevent malicious actors from snooping on information assets transmitted between the APs and the clients. However, no one uses WEP protocols as they have become outdated.

Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA): WPA, an improvement on WEP, was more of an interim standard before developing a long-time replacement for WEP. While it uses the same RC4 encryption technology, it also uses Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) to improve WLAN functions.

WPA2: The successor to WPA, WPA2 is also known as 802.11i and offers better encryption and security by using Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). Besides, it provides an advanced authentication mechanism, Counter Mode with Cipher-Block Chaining Message Authentication Code Protocol (CCMP). However, this standard also supports TKIP for devices that do not support CCMP.

WPA3: Wi-Fi Alliance introduced WPA3, an advanced version of WPA2, in 2018 as the most recent and secure security standard. It uses the latest security protocols, AES-128 and CCMP-128, and standardizes the 128-bit cryptographic suite to disallow obsolete security protocols.

How Does WPA3 Work?

WPA3 is a more advanced security protocol than WPA2 because it mandates the adoption of Protected Management Frames (PMF) to guard against eavesdropping and forging. In addition, while WPA2 uses AES-128 and CCMP-128. CCMP ensures better data confidentiality and message integrity by preventing unauthorized network users from accessing data. The WPA3 Enterprise mode offers optional 192-bit security encryption and advanced 48-bit IV protection for corporate, governmental, and financial information.

How is WPA3 Better than WPA2?

Though WPA2 is highly secure, it has a significant security flaw known as the key installation attack (KRACK) vulnerability. KRACK exploits the reinstallation of wireless encryption keys. Compared to WPA2 Personal, the Enterprise mode has a more robust authentication feature. However, the KRACK vulnerability affects all WPA2 implementations. WPA3 offers a more secure cryptographic handshake by replacing the PSK 4-way handshake with the more modern Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE). It is because SAE requires a new code with every interaction, replacing the reuse of encryption keys. In addition, SAE is an advanced mechanism because it allows the client or the AP to initiate contact as a one-off message instead of a multipart conversation. Since there is no open-ended communication between the client and the AP, WPA3 eliminates eavesdropping and forging. Such attacks usually occur on college campuses because of open Wi-Fi. WPA3 security eliminates these threats.

In addition, SAE flags users who exceed a specific number of password guesses. Therefore, it is more effective and makes the Wi-Fi network resistant to offline dictionary attacks. Since each connection requires a new encryption passphrase, it enables forward secrecy to prevent malicious actors from reusing a captured passcode to decrypt data. Thus, WPA3 safeguards the university’s data from threat actors. WPA3 works alongside Wi-Fi Easy Connect to simplify the onboarding process for IoT devices, especially those that do not have the QR code scan mechanism. In addition, the Wi-Fi Enhanced Open feature improves Wi-Fi network safety by using a new unique key to encrypt information between the AP and each client automatically.

Does WPA3 Have Any Vulnerabilities?

Research has shown that WPA3 has specific vulnerabilities, like the Dragonblood vulnerability. It is a downgrade attack where the malicious actor forces the device down to WPA2, exposing the network to offline dictionary attacks. However, software upgrades can mitigate these vulnerabilities, making WPA3 the most secure wireless protocol today.

The Dragonblood vulnerability is one drawback that can affect educational institutions more because of the higher number of floating network users. Malicious users can tweak the network and set the same Wi-Fi name for their smartphone internet connectivity.

Any unsecured device sharing the internet with such users can get deceived into thinking that it is connecting to the official Wi-Fi network of the university. This attack is an Evil Twin attack and can compromise vulnerable devices to make them unintentionally share confidential information with malicious actors. It happens because of the backward compatibility offered by WPA3. However, educational institutions can secure their systems by ensuring the use of robust passwords, securing admin accounts, and updating their network systems regularly.

How Can WPA3 Improve Wi-Fi Security?

So far, we have discussed how WPA3 overcomes the shortcomings of WPA2 and addresses concerns like the imperfect 4-way and the pre-shared key that expose enterprise networks to compromise. In addition, WPA3 provides excellent protection by making it more challenging to guess passwords. Here are some ways WPA3 can improve Wi-Fi security and prevent the latest AI-based phishing attacks on educational institutions and compromising student data.

Protects network devices: WPA3 keeps your devices secure while connecting to a wireless AP because it replaces WPA2 pre-shared key technology with SAE. It averts key reinstallation attacks and defends against offline dictionary attacks.

Protects passwords better: WPA3 enhances password strength by lengthening the encryption from 128-bits to 192-bits. Therefore, it becomes more challenging for malicious actors to crack passwords by guessing.

Secures connections in public areas: WPA3 provides PMF to prevent eavesdropping and forging attacks in public places. Though malicious actors can get the traffic encryption keys, it is challenging to calculate traffic usage. In addition, since WPA3 offers the advantage of forward secrecy, it provides more data security over open networks, usually observed on university campuses.

The Way Forward – What Cybersecurity Teams Should Know about WPA3

WPA3 has proved to be the most secure internet connection protocol today. Following are the critical aspects that all CSOs should know about WPA3.

  • Mandatory: According to Wi-Fi Alliance, since July 01, 2020, all new Wi-Fi-certified devices must use WPA3. As a result, all the latest gadgets are WPA3 compliant, and it is no longer an option for enterprise networks to use other standards for new devices today.
  • Interoperable: Though all new devices must be WPA3 compliant, the technology is backward compatible. It is interoperable with WPA2-complaint devices.
  • Latest security protocols: Since all new devices must mandatorily support WPA3, the latest gadgets will be available with the most advanced security protocols.
  • No password reuse: WPA3 forces all user devices to save and encrypt their passwords on the AP and client side. Therefore, reusing passwords is out of the question.

As educational institutions rely more on technology for various aspects, securing wireless networks has become more critical. Weak Wi-Fi connections can leave educational institutions vulnerable to phishing attacks, malware infections, and other types of cyber threats, and malicious actors are constantly looking for new ways to exploit vulnerabilities in Wi-Fi networks to gain unauthorized access and steal sensitive data.

Fortunately, the latest Wi-Fi security standard, WPA3, can help educational institutions strengthen their Wi-Fi networks and enhance their cybersecurity posture. WPA3 is designed to address the weaknesses of the previous versions of Wi-Fi security protocols and provides more robust encryption and authentication mechanisms. With the introduction of WPA3, educational institutions can better protect their networks and data against brute-force attacks or dictionary attacks.

Jason Claybrook

Strategic Consultant and Certified Wireless Design Professional (CWDP), Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP), Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA)

About Columbia Advisory Group

Founded in Dallas in 2012, Columbia Advisory Group LLC (CAG) is an established IT consulting firm renowned for delivering cost-effective, meaningful, and practical IT solutions that solve complex business problems. Our seasoned teams offer comprehensive insight across diverse regulatory and economic environments, providing unbiased, straightforward analysis and recommendations. We pride ourselves on our deep understanding of IT while remaining software and hardware-agnostic. Regardless of your organization’s growth trajectory or economic landscape, we at CAG are adept at adapting to your unique needs and complexity, offering tailored solutions to drive your success.

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