Over the next few years, Wi-Fi routers, access points and client devices like computers and smartphones will be supporting WPA3 as a media-specific network security protocol.
At the moment, I will be focusing on the WPA3-Personal variant which is relevant to small networks like the typical home or small-business network. This kind of network security is also implemented in an increasing number of venue-based public-access networks in order to allow the venue owner to protect and authenticate the network and preserve its role as an amenity for the venue’s customers.
The WPA3-Personal network security protocol has the same method of operation as for a WPA2-Personal network. This is using a “Wi-Fi password” commonly known across all access points and client devices that use the network segment.
But it describes this “Wi-Fi password” as Simultaneous Authentication Of Equals rather than the previous Pre-Shared Key used in previous WPA-Personal implementations. It also affects how this “Wi-Fi password” is represented and encrypted in order to protect it against an off-site brute-force cracking attempt.
As well, each connection between the client device and the access point is encrypted in a manner unique to that connection.
The initial onboarding process will be typically based on the traditional password-entry method. But it will also implement Wi-Fi EasyConnect which uses a QR code or WPS-based push-button setup.
The Wi-Fi WPA3 security protocol may take years to become mature while a secure surefire codebase for client-side and access-point-side implementations is worked out. The initial codebase was found to have software weaknesses in the early Personal-setup implementation and is being debugged now.
A question that will be raised is whether an upgrade to WPA3 security will require new hardware for either the client device or the access point or if this can be performed using revised firmware that has the necessary software code. This may depend on whether the hardware uses a purely software-defined approach for managing its functionality.
There will be situations that will take place regarding existing equipment and WPA3-capable equipment. Here, a WPA3 client like a smartphone can work with an existing WPA2-compliant Wi-Fi network segment but not have the full benefits. Similarly, a WPA3-capable Wi-Fi network segment will need to be operated in a “transition mode” to allow existing WPA2-compliant client devices to connect. Again, this doesn’t provide all the benefits of a Wi-Fi network segment secure to WPA3 standards.
You can also work around this limitation by implementing two Wi-Fi network segments that have separate ESSIDs. One of these could be configured to work the current WPA2-Personal standard while the other is set up purely for WPA3-Personal. This practice may come in to its own if you have a Wi-Fi network using the latest standards while you maintain another using tried-and-trusted standards.