Wednesday, August 24, 2011


A wireless network transmits signals over radio waves and there is a possibility or a certainty in most cases that attempts to intercept signals and hack your network will be made. To protect your wireless network from such attacks, you need to install wireless security standards like WPA or WPA2. They encrypt the data transmitted on the network and ensure that nefarious schemes of hackers don't work! In this article I present a WPA vs WPA2 comparison, which will point out the main differences between the two standards and help you choose between the two.

Since the beginning of wireless telegraphy and radio communication, the threat of data being intercepted and stolen for malicious purposes has always been there. To counter these threats, with the advent of wireless networking, encryption methods were developed to prevent data from being stolen. Cryptology developed as a science to counter these hacking attempts made on wireless transmissions. To protect wireless networks, first the WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) technology was developed.

However, WEP proved to be inadequate and was easily hacked due to inherent flaws in the encryption methods. WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) was developed as an improvement over WEP for the IEEE 802.11i wireless network standard. As a WPA vs WEP comparison would reveal, WPA did succeed where WEP failed. WPA2 is the successor of WPA with even more improved encryption methods. Let us compare WPA and WPA2 according to their encryption methods and overall performance.

Difference Between WPA and WPA2

Let me set up a little background regarding wireless transmission encryption methods. All data packets are encrypted with the use of encryption keys at transmission and decrypted at receiving points. The encryption keys consist of a secret key and an 'Initialization Vector (IV)'. Longer the encryption key's bit length, more are the encryption possibilities and stronger is the encryption technique. Constant change in encryption keys makes it harder for hackers to crack wireless networks. Let us see how WPA and WPA2 implement encryption techniques.

WPA Vs WPA2: Encryption
Let us see the differences between the encryption methods employed in the WPA and WPA2 standard. Every WPA key has a 48 bit IV key, which creates 500 trillion combinations and is a stronger encryption compared to WEP. With so many combinations, the possibility of the encryption key reuse is lesser and therefore the encryption can endure hacking attacks better than WEP. WPA does not make direct use of the master encryption keys and has a message integrity checking facility. It uses the TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) and creates encryption keys from passphrases supplied by the administrator, coupled with SSID (service set identifier) codes of wireless networks.

However, as smart as hackers are, even WPA was found to be vulnerable to hacking. To take care of the problem, WPA2 was introduced which used the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) algorithm to encrypt data. Data encryption for information security is constantly evolving to meet the challenge posed by advanced hacking methods. The AES algorithm is far more superior than the one used by WPA. It is advertised to be theoretically uncrackable due to the greater degree of randomness in encryption keys that it generates.

WPA Vs WPA2: Speed
WPA2 requires greater processing power compared to WPA and it can slow down a network slightly with hardware that is not in sync with WPA2. So if you are using old wireless routers, with firmware upgrades, chances are that WPA2 might slow down the network if it has heavy usage. If you have new wireless network hardware that is built to be compatible with WPA2, speed slowdowns will be very negligible. The wireless network speed is more dependent on the bandwidth you have purchased.

WPA Vs WPA2: Performance
Performance wise, WPA2 is far stronger than WPA due to the inherently superior encryption algorithm. WPA2 wins hands down in terms of performance and is the recommended choice if you are setting up a new wireless network.

Hope this WPA vs WPA2 comparison has made it easier for you to decide which would be the best wireless security standard for your own network security. WPA2 is the superior technology with a stronger encryption algorithm. If your wireless network lies in a high risk zone, it is best that you opt for the latest WPA2 encryption technology.

Thank You

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