What Is Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)?

A step beyond WEP

Wi-Fi Protected Access is a Wi-Fi security technology developed in response to the weaknesses of Wired Equivalent Privacy standards. It improves upon WEP's authentication and encryption features. WPA2, in turn, is an upgraded form of WPA; since 2006, every Wi-Fi-certified product must use it.

WPA Features

WPA provides stronger encryption than WEP using either of two standard technologies: Temporal key integrity protocol and advanced encryption standard. WPA also includes built-in authentication support that WEP does not.

WPA-2 vs WPA

Some implementations of WPA allow WEP clients to connect to the network, too, but the security is then reduced to WEP levels for all connected devices.

WPA includes support for remote authentication dial-in user service servers. In this setup, the server accesses device credentials so that users authenticate before they connect to the network. The server also holds extensible authentication protocol messages.

When a device successfully connects to a WPA network, keys generate using a four-way handshake that takes place with the access point (usually a router) and device.

When TKIP encryption is used, a message integrity code is included to make sure that the data is not spoofed. It replaces WEP's weaker packet guarantee, which is called cyclic redundancy check.

What Is WPA-PSK?

WPA Pre-Shared Key is a variation of WPA designed for home networks. It's a simplified but still powerful form of WPA.

Similar to WEP, a static key or passphrase is set, but WPA-PSK uses TKIP. WPA-PSK automatically changes the keys at preset intervals to make it difficult for hackers to find and exploit them.

Working With WPA

You'll see options for using WPA for connecting to a wireless network and when setting up a network for others to connect to. It was designed to be supported on pre-WPA devices such as those that use WEP, but some work only with WPA after a firmware upgrade. Others are simply incompatible.

WPA pre-shared keys are vulnerable to attack, even though the protocol is more secure than WEP. Your best defense is a passphrase that's strong enough to circumvent brute-force attacks.

  • How do I find my WPA key for my router?

    Your wireless network's name (SSID) and the key is usually printed on the bottom of your router. The network name and key shouldn't be confused with the username and password, which are needed to access the router settings. If the WPA key has been changed, reset your router to return the key to the default.

  • What is the difference between WPA vs. WPA2 vs. WPA3?

    The major difference between WPA and WPA2 is that WPA2 offers superior encryption. The latest standard is WPA3, which offers enhanced security for open networks.

  • How do I know if my router is WEP or WPA?

    On Windows 10, select the Wi-Fi icon in the taskbar, select Properties under the network you're currently connected to, then look for the Security Type. On a Mac, hold down the Option key and select the Wi-Fi icon in the toolbar to see your network details. On Android, go to your Wi-Fi connections and tap the network to see its details.

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