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Wi-Fi to launch new security protocol
July 1, 2018, 1:52 pm

The Wi-Fi Alliance, which oversees adoption of the Wi-Fi standard, is beginning to certify products that support a new security protocol labeled WPA3 as a successor to the WPA2 standard that has been in place since 2004.

The new protocol provides several additional protections for devices connected over Wi-Fi. One big improvement makes it harder for hackers to crack your password by guessing it repeatedly, and another limits what data hackers can see even once they have uncovered the passcode.

But it is going to be quite a while before WPA3 enabled or supported devices become readily available in the market. First you will have to buy a new router that supports WPA3 (or hope that your old one is updated to support it). The same goes for all your gadgets; you will have to buy new ones that support WPA3, or hope your old ones are updated. Fortunately, devices that support WPA3 can still connect with devices that use WPA2, so the devices you already have will not suddenly stop working when WPA3 begins to appear.

The biggest new feature in WPA3 is protection against offline, password-guessing attacks. This is where an attacker captures data from your Wi-Fi stream, brings it back to a private computer, and guesses passwords over and over again until they find a match. With WPA3, attackers are only supposed to be able to make a single guess against that offline data before it becomes useless; they will instead have to interact with the live Wi-Fi device every time they want to make a guess. This makes it very hard for potential hackers as they will have to be physically present, and devices can be set up to protect against repeat guesses.

WPA3’s other major addition, as highlighted by the Alliance, is forward secrecy. This is a privacy feature that prevents older data from being compromised by a later attack. So if an attacker captures an encrypted Wi-Fi transmission, then cracks the password, they still will not be able to read the older data — they would only be able to see new information currently flowing over the network.

The Wi-Fi Alliance expects WPA3 rollout to ramp up over the next year. For now, it will not be mandatory on new products being released. But the next generation of Wi-Fi itself — 802.11ax — is also starting to come out and is expected to hit mass adoption in late 2019; as those devices become available, the Alliance expects the pace of WPA3 adoption to pick up. The Alliance says that, as adoption grows, WPA3 will eventually become a requirement for a device to be considered Wi-Fi certified.

In addition to the start of WPA3 certification, the Alliance is also announcing a new, optional Wi-Fi feature called Easy Connect, which would simplify the process of connecting smart home gadgets to your router. At present, this is tricky process especially when the gadgets do not have screens or buttons on them. With Easy Connect, you will be able to scan a QR code with your phone to have the Wi-Fi credentials automatically sent to the new device. While this sounds like a great feature, its adoption in new gadgets will need support from different manufacturers and as such it could be some time before it is widely available.

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