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WPA Personal is an older Wi-Fi standard that relies on RC4 and TKIP to keep your Wi-Fi connection secure, but WPA2 uses a combination of AES and CCMP, which are more secure than WPA’s offerings. These make WPA2 a better alternative to WPA Personal.
When setting up the Wi-Fi hotspot on your phone or router, you may be offered the option to choose between the WPA Personal security standard and WPA2. Since both of them work the same way above the hood, it’s easy to think they both refer to the same thing.
WPA is an acronym for Wi-Fi Protected Access, and WPA2 is its second iteration, which stands for Wi-Fi Protected Access 2. They’re both replacements for the earlier and more vulnerable WEP network protocol, and they were created in 2003 and 2004, respectively.
While they may look pretty similar, both Wi-Fi technologies aren’t the same from a security standpoint. You may have noticed that there are many options, including WEP, WPA2-Personal, WPA2-Enterprise, WPA, and WPA-3.
While your device may not have all of these options, you’ll almost certainly have WPA Personal and WPA2 Personal. There are no major speed differences between these two Wi-Fi technologies, but there are significant differences in their security structure.
Judging by the relative unavailability of WEP in today’s Wi-Fi systems, you can easily tell that it’s pretty insecure. WPA is just WEP, but with some extra security provided through the availability of TKIP.
However, WPA2 uses a different security system from WEP and WPA. Instead of the 64-bit RC4 stream cipher, it uses a standard 128-bit AES encryption and replaces the TKIP from WPA to CCMP.
These modifications make WPA2 a superior security setup, but it’s still less secure than the newer WPA3 technology. While that is rarer than WPA and WPA2, it’s currently the go-to technology for the most secure experience.
The names WPA and WPA2 don’t say anything about their security capabilities. While you may guess that the second iteration is better than the first, there are some instances where that logic may not apply.
If your primary concern is security, WPA2 is the superior option from these two choices. If you’re not limiting yourself to WPA and WPA2, however, there is a more superior security setup in the newer technology: WPA3.
WPA is less secure than WPA2 because it’s a rushed attempt to fix the flaws of the much older WEP technology. Before the advent of WPA and WPA2, WEP had just too many flaws that it wasn’t fit to be used in a decent environment with any reasonable expectations of security.
While WPA is securer than what it replaces, it’s still not secure enough to be a long-term solution for Wi-Fi security. This is partly because it’s still based on the same security system as WEP, and it’s only more secure because of the added TKIP security protocol.
However, the RC4 technology still poses a problem. Hackers have found a way around that old encryption technology already, and most cybersecurity and technology companies are pushing for its elimination in tech products.
To solve this security problem, researchers replaced the RC4 technology with the industry-standard AES encryption technology, and the aging TKIP protocol was replaced by CCMP. This created a Wi-Fi standard so secure that it became compulsory for all new devices to support it.
While there are speculations that the AES encryption protocol has a backdoor that was part of it by design, nobody has ever been able to prove the presence of such a backdoor. By today’s standards, it will take a supercomputer million of years to crack the encryption on a device encrypted with the AES standard.
If you’re looking for the best Wi-Fi protocol of WPA and WPA2, you should go with WPA2. However, there is another superior Wi-Fi security standard in WPA3. While it’s not popular enough to be used widely, it’s still securer than anything else on offer.
There are many security modes that a Wi-Fi-enabled device can support. There is the outdated WEP protocol that has been phased out for its lack of security, WPA, WPA2, and the newest technology: WPA3.
If you want the best security you can get, WPA3 is your best bet. However, it’s almost certain that most of your devices don’t support the WPA3 standard yet, as it was only created in 2018. By comparison, WPA2 was created in 2004, making it ages older.
In short, the most secure mode for Wi-Fi that’s still practical for most devices is WPA2, because you may need to trash and replace all your devices to upgrade to WPA3.
One reason why you may not want to trash your devices yet is that there aren’t any significant security vulnerabilities in WPA2 yet. Upgrading to WPA3 right now will be like fixing what already works perfectly, which is quite pointless in the tech ecosystem.
Instead of the combination of AES and CCMP that WPA2 uses for its security, WPA3 uses a system known as Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE). In this system, the password to the Wi-Fi network is supplied and verified through a 4-way handshake.
This improves on that specific aspect of WPA2, which makes the older technologies vulnerable to a key reinstallation attack (or KRACK attacks). While newer iterations of WPA2 have found ways to patch these vulnerabilities, there is no telling what kind of security issues may pop up in the future.
Another importance of WPA3 over WPA2 in the security aspect is the provision of the Device Provisioning Protocol. This replaces the Wi-Fi Protected Setup used in earlier versions of Wi-Fi.
However, some of the best security features of WPA3 aren’t required to get the WPA3 certification. In short, you shouldn’t expect your WPA3-Personal setup to be the securest Wi-Fi network ever, but it will always be superior to any version of WPA2.
While WPA and WPA2 share similar names, they are actually very different under the hood. WPA is an insecure technology that’s gradually being phased away from Wi-Fi devices, while WPA2 is a more secure alternative that you’ll find on most modern devices.
Starting from the advantage of WPA, it requires littler processing power to process connections and data transfers. This leaves a larger room for data flow, making it slightly faster than WPA2, but that’s as good as it gets.
Earlier WPA2 Wi-Fi networks use lots of processing power to run the cutting edge AES encryption technology then. Add the resource usage of the CCMP technology and you’ll see why WPA2 can be somewhat slower than WPA on 2004 hardware.
However, it’s nearly two decades since the inception of WPA2, and Wi-Fi devices have gotten faster and stronger ever since. Thanks to multiple updates pushed to the Wi-Fi technology, WPA2 can now reach speeds that the initial WPA standard can only dream of, without worrying about resource usage.
When talking about security, WPA2 runs circles around WPA. WPA uses the same outdated technology as the obsolete WEP, but only improves on it slightly. While it offers significantly better security than WEP, it’s still very vulnerable to attacks.
WPA2, on the other hand, is still theoretically hackable but practically resistant to hacks. With a modern day supercomputer, it will take millions of years to crack the WPA2’s security, while you don’t even need a computer to hack a WPA access point.
If you want the safest network available out there, the new WPA3 standard is your best bet. To do that, however, you may need to trash all your existing hardware to find new ones that support the 2018 technology.
For a perfect balance between security and support, WPA2 is still the best. If you want any reasonable expectation of security, speed, or support across various devices, you’ll generally want to avoid WPA Personal.