What is WPA3?

WPA3, also known as Wi-Fi Protected Access 3, is the third iteration of a security certification standard developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance. WPA3 is the latest updated implementation of WPA2, which has been in use since 2004. The Wi-Fi Alliance began certifying WPA3-approved products in 2018.

WPA3 is designed to improve security for wireless networks. It's a major improvement over WPA2, as it provides increased protection of data that moves across personal and enterprise Wi-Fi networks.

Updates to WPA3 include better protection for simple passwords, encryption for personal and open networks, and more secure encryption for enterprise-based networks.

The WPA3 protocol provides new features for personal and enterprise use, such as a harder-to-break 256-bit Galois/Counter Mode Protocol (GCMP-256), 384-bit Hashed-based Message Authentication Code (HMAC) and 256-bit Broadcast/Multicast Integrity Protocol (BIP-GMAC-256). The WPA3 protocol also supports security measures such as perfect forward secrecy, which produces a temporary private key exchange between clients and servers. A unique session key is generated for every individual session a user initiates.

However, WPA3 support isn't automatically added to every device. Users who wish to use WPA3-approved devices must either buy a router that supports WPA3 or hope their device supports the new protocol.

Why is WPA3 important?

WPA3 is a mandatory certification for Wi-Fi-certified devices and remains a standard for wireless security. WPA3 is an overall improvement over its previous iteration, WPA2.

WPA3 is designed to improve Wi-Fi security by enabling better authentication over WPA2, providing expanded cryptographic strength and increasing the resiliency of critical networks.

The newer standard also includes different capabilities for personal and enterprise use, as Wi-Fi networks differ in usage, purpose and security in these settings. For example, WPA3-Personal networks offer increased protection against attempts at password guessing, while WPA3-Enterprise networks provide improved security protocols for networks.

Key features of WPA3 include the following:

  • Management Frame Protection (MFP) protects unicast and broadcast management frames and encrypts unicast management frames. This means wireless intrusion detection and wireless intrusion prevention systems now have fewer brute-force ways to enforce client policies.
  • Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE) enables password-based authentication and a key agreement mechanism. This protects against brute-force attacks.
  • Transition mode is a mixed mode that enables the use of WPA2 to connect clients that don't support WPA3.

WPA3 weaknesses

While WPA3 is a significant improvement over WPA2, it isn't invulnerable. For example, an attacker within range of a victim could recover the password to the Wi-Fi network, enabling them to read and steal data that WPA3 should encrypt. After finding this vulnerability, the Wi-Fi Alliance implemented software updates to mitigate the problem.

But even devices with a WPA3-supported router might not be able to connect if they're too old or don't support WPA3 protocols.

WPA3 vs. WEP, WPA and WPA2
Learn how WPA3 compares to the previous wireless network standards Wired Equivalent Privacy, WPA and WPA2.

Forms of WPA3 security

WPA3 has three main personal and enterprise options:

  • WPA3-Personal (WPA3-SAE). This mode focuses on improving protection for individual users by providing better security using SAE. SAE increases security over WPA2, even when using a simple password. Personal mode lets users choose easy-to-remember passwords while still providing increased security using perfect forward secrecy to protect data traffic.
  • WPA3-Enterprise. Enterprise mode builds on top of the previous WPA2 Enterprise mode. However, enterprise mode requires the use of Protected Management Frames on all WPA3 connections. Enterprise mode also has multiple Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) methods for authentication, 128-bit authenticated encryption, 256-bit key derivation and confirmation, as well as 128-bit management frame protection.
  • Wi-Fi Enhanced Open. This extra mode focuses on increasing privacy in open networks. Enhanced Open mode prevents passive eavesdropping by encrypting traffic even when a password isn't used. This mode uses 256-bit authenticated encryption, 384-bit key derivation and confirmation, as well as 256-bit management frame protection.

WPA3 vs. WPA2

While WPA2 made improvements over the previous Wired Equivalent Privacy and WPA, WPA3 is even more secure and comprehensive. When compared to the WPA2 standard, WPA3 adds the following notable features:

  • SAE protocol. This is used to create a secure handshake, where a network device connects to a wireless access point and both devices communicate to verify authentication and connection. Even if a user's password is weak, WPA3 provides a more secure handshake than WPA2.
  • Individualized data encryption. Compared to WPA2, which uses shared passwords when logging on to a public network, WPA3 signs up a new device using the Device Provisioning Protocol. This lets users allow devices on the network by using near-field communication tags or QR (quick response) codes. In addition, WPA3 security uses GCMP-256 encryption instead of 128-bit encryption.
  • Stronger brute-force attack protection. WPA3 protects against offline password guesses by giving users only one guess attempt, making them interact with a Wi-Fi device directly. This means the user must be physically present every time they want to guess the password. WPA2 lacks built-in encryption and privacy in public open networks, making brute-force attacks a major threat.
  • Bigger session keys. WPA3 supports larger session key sizes, up to 192-bit security in enterprise use cases.
  • Encryption. WPA2 uses Advanced Encryption Standard for encryption, while WPA3 uses the more secure GCMP.

Learn more about the differences among WEP, WPA, WPA2 and WPA3.

This was last updated in April 2023

Continue Reading About WPA3

Dig Deeper on Network security

Enterprise Desktop
Cloud Computing