WPA vs. WPA2: Which Security Measure Is Right for Your Network?

A network administrator chooses between WPA and WPA2 when configuring a router.

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Wireless networks give you the convenience of connecting devices without wires, but the lack of wires poses a security risk. People cannot access a wired network without a physical connection, but they can easily get onto a wireless network if it’s not secured correctly. 

Leaving a network open makes every user on it vulnerable to cyberattacks. You need to use the right security protocols on your router to protect them, your data, and the network as a whole. This guide looks at the differences and similarities between two of the leading security protocols, WPA vs. WPA2, to help you decide which of these security measures is right for your wireless network. 

What Is WPA?

WPA stands for WiFi Protected Access, and it was developed in 2003 to address the security issues and functional deficiencies of Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). WEP was the standard wireless security protocol from 1998 to 2004, and to streamline the transition to WPA, developers maintained some of WEP’s core features to ensure older devices would be compatible with the new security protocol. This created inherent vulnerabilities in WPA.

What Is WPA2?

WPA2 was introduced a year after WPA. This new security protocol addressed the vulnerabilities of WPA, and it also offered an easier configuration process. Hacking WPA2 is nearly impossible, but this security protocol has no protection against internal threats. Anyone with access to the network can attack other devices on the network.

WPA vs. WPA2

WPA and WPA2 were created just a year apart, but in spite of their similar development timeline, they have key differences. Here are the main distinctions between them.

Security

WPA uses the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP), which offers more security than WEP but less than WPA2. The nearly uncrackable Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) algorithm used with WPA2 addresses the security issues found in WPA.

Processing Power

WPA2 needs more processing power than WPA. Networks that use WPA2 with old hardware will suffer from reduced network performance. WPA works fine on hardware that was designed prior to the development of WPA2.

Password Length

WPA can work with shorter passwords while WPA2 needs longer passwords. The length and complexity of the passwords help make WPA2 more secure.

You need to balance your security needs with your hardware limitations when choosing between WPA and WPA2. WPA2 is always the more secure choice, but if your hardware cannot support it and your network is lagging, you may want to consider WPA as long as you’re aware of the reduction in security.

Choosing Between WPA and WPA2

The clear choice between WPA and WPA2 is always WPA2, but there may be situations where you opt to use WPA over its stronger and more secure successor. Here are the main factors to consider as you choose between these wireless security protocols.

Encryption Methods

WPA only uses TKIP, while WPA2 can use either TKIP or AES. TKIP is an older encryption standard that is not as secure as AES, but it can be useful if you need compatibility with older devices. 

Software Compatibility

WPA can work with older software because it was designed to work on the devices that were using WEP at the turn of the 21st century. WPA2, in contrast, is only compatible with newer software.

Enterprise Solutions

WPA does not offer a special version of its protocol for businesses, but WPA2 has an enterprise option with heightened security. Companies that need an enterprise solution should only consider WPA2.

Processing Power

WPA doesn’t need a lot of processing power, and as a result, it can work without slowing down legacy systems. WPA2 takes a lot of processing power, and although this doesn’t present problems when you’re using new equipment, it can slow down networks using old hardware that added WPA2 capabilities through a firmware update.

Industry Requirements

Individual internet users can choose the type of security protocol that makes them most comfortable, but business users may need to meet cybersecurity requirements for their industry. Government agencies rely on WPA2, for example, and they also use the AES algorithms for other security measures. 

Most routers come with the security protocol preset, but some routers prompt you to choose between WPA, WPA2, and other security protocols. You may also decide to modify the settings on your router to switch between different security protocols. You should select WPA2 over WPA whenever possible, but if you are using old equipment and suffering from network performance issues, you may want to downgrade your security to WPA. 

What to Avoid When Choosing Between WPA and WPA2

The right choice between these two security protocols varies based on your situation, but if security is your main objective, you should always choose WPA2. Avoid these common mistakes when making your choice.

  1. Refusing to upgrade hardware: Don’t put your network at risk with old software or hardware. Upgrade your access points so you can use WPA2.
  2. Assuming WPA is easier to use: Both WPA and WPA2 are equally easy to use. WPA is just easier to hack. 
  3. Switching to WPA immediately if you have performance issues: Try running WPA2 using TKIP and see if that improves network performance. Only turn to WPA as a last resort.

You shouldn’t assume these are the only options. WPA3 is newer and safer than both of these options, but it can only run on relatively new devices. You may want to upgrade to WPA3 if you’re investing in new hardware for your network, but you don’t need to upgrade your hardware just to make this switch. WPA2 provides ample security for most business and personal networks. 

Contact Shred Cube to Improve Your Security Today

Shred Cube is committed to helping you improve the security of your home or business network. Our device plugs into the USB port on your computer or mobile device and it permanently shreds digital files. Deleting files makes them look like they’re gone, but until they’re shredded, they continue to exist on the device’s hard drive where they can be accessed by criminals. 

You should be shredding your digital files regardless of whether you use WPA vs. WPA2. Contact us at Shred Cube today to learn more about how our device can improve your security.

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