Wireless Network Protocols



Networking is a very important part in modern day computing. When the Internet and networking where popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, Ethernet cables were very popular means of connecting to a network. This physical connection joined a computer directly into a network. However, with the rise of wireless networking, the connection is not physical. This can pose a security and privacy problem. Thankfully, many wireless protocols offer security.

IEEE 802.11 is a wireless network standard known as "Wi-Fi" (or WiFi). WiFi networking uses many radio bands including 2.4GHz UHF, 3.6GHz, 5GHz SHF ISM, and 60GHz. Many 802.11 standards and amendments exist such as 802.11g, 802.11-1997, 802.11n, 802.11-2012, etc. Each amendment and standard offers new features and improvements to WiFi.

IEEE 802.1x is a standard that provides authentication for Port-based Network Access Control (PNAC). This standard of authentication requires three parts - the supplicant (the client), an authenticator (the wireless access point), and an authentication server (running RADIUS and EAP). The supplicant cannot access services on the other side of the authenticator (such as Internet access) until the supplicant provides credentials. The 802.1X-2010 specification amends security flaws in 802.1x such as "man-in-the-middle" attacks.

FUN FACT: Once a black-hat hacker gains access to a WiFi network, DNS spoofing attacks are easy.

Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), WiFi Protected Access (WPA), and WiFi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) are three commonly used security algorithms that are part of th 802.11 protocol standard. In 2003, WEP has been superseded by WPA due to security flaws in WEP. If possible, do not use WEP. WEP uses 10-26 hexadecimal digits as a key. WEP-40 (commonly called 64-bit WEP) uses a 40-bit key while WEP-104 (128-bit WEP) uses a 104-bit key. WEP-40 keys are strings of ten hexadecimal digits. WEP-104 uses 26 hexadecimal digits. Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA or IEEE 802.11i) and Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2 or IEEE 802.11i-2004) are the predecessors to WEP. WPA and WPA2 offer better security than WEP. WPA2 is more secure than WPA. Many home and office WiFi networks use Pre-shared Key mode (PSK or WPA-Personal) which uses a 256-bit key. This key may be 64 hexadecimal digits or 8-63 printable ASCII characters. Weak ASCII passphrases are vulnerable to password cracking and brute force attacks. Two alternatives to WPA-Personal include WPA-Enterprise and WiFi Protected Setup. WEP uses the RC4 stream cipher while WPA uses Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) and WPA2 uses "Counter Cipher Mode with block chaining message authentication code Protocol" (CCMP).

FUN FACT: WPA and WPA2 are susceptible to password cracking if a weak password is used. Also, try to use a unique SSID that has a decent length.

FUN FACT: Many Internet providers offering WiFi use their client's phone number as the WEP-40 key (such as 8001234567).

WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI) is a wireless standard set by the Chinese government (GB 15629.11-2003). This is a very secure algorithm that is only used in China. Security flaws are unknown at this time. Kudos to the genius that can crack it.

Alternatives to Wifi include 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G.

First-generation wireless telephone technology (1G) is a set of analog telecommunications standards made in the 1980s.

FUN FACT: Mobile radio telephone systems (pre-cellular phones) are considered 0G technology.

Second-generation wireless telephone technology (2G) is the first collection of digital telecommunications standards. 2.5G (GPRS - General Packet Radio Service) and 2.75G (EDGE - Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) are special forms of the amended 2G standard.

Third-generation wireless telephone technology (3G) is an improved standard from 2G that is IMT-2000 compliant. 3G connections use the KASUMI block cipher which is a cryptographic algorithm known to have security flaws. 3G is widely used and is popular among GPS systems.

Fourth-generation wireless telephone technology (4G), like other xG networks, is an improvement of the previous releases with greater speed, large coverage, more features, and better security.

Fifth-generation wireless telephone technology (5G) this is a proposed standard that is expectd to be faster and better in many ways. 5G is expected to have more coverage and support network virtualization.

Further Reading


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