IEEE 802.11i-2004, or 802.11i for short, is an amendment to the original IEEE 802.11, implemented as Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2). The draft standard was ratified on 24 June 2004. This standard specifies security mechanisms for wireless networks, replacing the short Authentication and privacy clause of the original standard with a detailed Security clause. In the process, the amendment deprecated broken Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), while it was later incorporated into the published IEEE 802.11-2007 standard.
Replacement of WEP
802.11i supersedes the previous security specification, Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), which was shown to have security vulnerabilities. Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) had previously been introduced by the Wi-Fi Alliance as an intermediate solution to WEP insecurities. WPA implemented a subset of a draft of 802.11i. The Wi-Fi Alliance refers to their approved, interoperable implementation of the full 802.11i as WPA2, also called RSN (Robust Security Network). 802.11i makes use of the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) block cipher, whereas WEP and WPA use the RC4 stream cipher.
IEEE 802.11i enhances IEEE 802.11-1999 by providing a Robust Security Network (RSN) with two new protocols: the four-way handshake and the group key handshake. These utilize the authentication services and port access control described in IEEE 802.1X to establish and change the appropriate cryptographic keys. The RSN is a security network that only allows the creation of robust security network associations (RSNAs), which are a type of association used by a pair of stations (STAs) if the procedure to establish authentication or association between them includes the 4-Way Handshake.
The initial authentication process is carried out either using a pre-shared key (PSK), or following an EAP exchange through 802.1X (known as EAPOL, which requires the presence of an authentication server). This process ensures that the client station (STA) is authenticated with the access point (AP). After the PSK or 802.1X authentication, a shared secret key is generated, called the Pairwise Master Key (PMK). The PMK is derived from a password that is put through PBKDF2-SHA1 as the cryptographic hash function. In a pre-shared-key network, the PMK is actually the PSK. If an 802.1X EAP exchange was carried out, the PMK is derived from the EAP parameters provided by the authentication server.
The four-way handshake is designed so that the access point (or authenticator) and wireless client (or supplicant) can independently prove to each other that they know the PSK/PMK, without ever disclosing the key. Instead of disclosing the key, the access point (AP) and client encrypt messages to each other—that can only be decrypted by using the PMK that they already share—and if decryption of the messages was successful, this proves knowledge of the PMK. The four-way handshake is critical for protection of the PMK from malicious access points—for example, an attacker's SSID impersonating a real access point—so that the client never has to tell the access point its PMK.
The PMK is designed to last the entire session and should be exposed as little as possible; therefore, keys to encrypt the traffic need to be derived. A four-way handshake is used to establish another key called the Pairwise Transient Key (PTK). The PTK is generated by concatenating the following attributes: PMK, AP nonce (ANonce), STA nonce (SNonce), AP MAC address, and STA MAC address. The product is then put through a pseudo-random function. The handshake also yields the GTK (Group Temporal Key), used to decrypt multicast and broadcast traffic.
The actual messages exchanged during the handshake are depicted in the figure and explained below (all messages are sent as EAPOL-Key frames):
- The AP sends a nonce-value to the STA (ANonce). The client now has all the attributes to construct the PTK.
- The STA sends its own nonce-value (SNonce) to the AP together with a Message Integrity Code (MIC), including authentication, which is really a Message Authentication and Integrity Code (MAIC).
- The AP constructs and sends the GTK and a sequence number together with another MIC. This sequence number will be used in the next multicast or broadcast frame, so that the receiving STA can perform basic replay detection.
- The STA sends a confirmation to the AP.
The Pairwise Transient Key (64 bytes) is divided into five separate keys:
- 16 bytes of EAPOL-Key Confirmation Key (KCK) – Used to compute MIC on WPA EAPOL Key message
- 16 bytes of EAPOL-Key Encryption Key (KEK) – AP uses this key to encrypt additional data sent (in the 'Key Data' field) to the client (for example, the RSN IE or the GTK)
- 16 bytes of Temporal Key (TK) – Used to encrypt/decrypt Unicast data packets
- 8 bytes of Michael MIC Authenticator Tx Key – Used to compute MIC on unicast data packets transmitted by the AP
- 8 bytes of Michael MIC Authenticator Rx Key – Used to compute MIC on unicast data packets transmitted by the station
The Group Temporal Key (32 bytes) is divided into three separate keys:
- 16 bytes of Group Temporal Encryption Key – used to encrypt/decrypt Multicast and Broadcast data packets
- 8 bytes of Michael MIC Authenticator Tx Key – used to compute MIC on Multicast and Broadcast packets transmitted by AP
- 8 bytes of Michael MIC Authenticator Rx Key – currently unused as stations do not send multicast traffic
The Michael MIC Authenticator Tx/Rx Keys in both the PTK and GTK are only used if the network is using TKIP to encrypt the data.
The four-way handshake has been shown to be vulnerable to KRACK.
Group key handshake
The Group Temporal Key (GTK) used in the network may need to be updated due to the expiration of a preset timer. When a device leaves the network, the GTK also needs to be updated. This is to prevent the device from receiving any more multicast or broadcast messages from the AP.
To handle the updating, 802.11i defines a Group Key Handshake that consists of a two-way handshake:
- The AP sends the new GTK to each STA in the network. The GTK is encrypted using the KEK assigned to that STA, and protects the data from tampering, by use of a MIC.
- The STA acknowledges the new GTK and replies to the AP.
- WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI), China's centralized wireless security method
- IEEE 802.1AE MACsec
- "IEEE 802.11i-2004: Amendment 6: Medium Access Control (MAC) Security Enhancements" (pdf). IEEE Standards. 2004-07-23. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
- IEEE 802.11i-2004: Amendment 6: Medium Access Control (MAC) Security Enhancements (pdf), IEEE Standards, 2004-07-23, p. 14, retrieved 2010-04-09
- IEEE 802.11i-2004: Amendment 6: Medium Access Control (MAC) Security Enhancements (pdf), IEEE Standards, 2004-07-23, p. 14, retrieved 2010-04-09,
RSNA relies on IEEE 802.1X to provide authentication services and uses the IEEE 802.11 key management scheme
- IEEE 802.11i-2004: Amendment 6: Medium Access Control (MAC) Security Enhancements (pdf), IEEE Standards, 2004-07-23, p. 5, retrieved 2010-04-09
- IEEE 802.11i-2004: Amendment 6: Medium Access Control (MAC) Security Enhancements (pdf), IEEE Standards, 2004-07-23, p. 43, retrieved 2010-04-09
- "IEEE 802.11-2007: Wireless LAN Medium Access Control (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) specifications". IEEE. 2007-03-08.
- "The Evolution of 802.11 Wireless Security" (PDF). ITFFROC. 2010-04-18.