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Deciphering Wireless Acronyms

Ron Pacchiano
Last Updated May 24, 2021 8:01 am

Stumped by acronyms such as WPA2 and WMM? You’re not alone. We define these new terms and explain why you should care about them.

Wireless Acronyms: WPA and WPA2 Defined

Acronyms come and go so quickly in this industry that it’s easy to occasionally miss a few. Both of these are also relatively new, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you haven’t heard of them yet. Before we explain what’s new in WPA2, let’s take a look at some wireless definitions that will help you to better understand WPA and WPA2 for those of you not familiar the technology:

Key Terms To Understanding Wireless Acronyms:

  • WEP: Short for Wired Equivalent Privacy, a security protocol for wireless local area networks (WLANs) defined in the 802.11b standard.
  • WPA: Short for Wi-Fi Protected Access, a Wi-Fi standard that was designed to improve upon the security features of WEP.
  • WPA2: Short for Wi-Fi Protected Access 2, the follow on security method to WPA for wireless networks that provides stronger data protection and network access control.
  • Wi-Fi: Short for wireless fidelity and is meant to be used generically when referring of any type of 802.11 network.
  • WMM: Stands for Wi-Fi Multimedia. It is a standard created to define quality of service (QoS) in Wi-Fi networks.

Stands for Wi-Fi Multimedia

WPA is a specification of security enhancements that increases the level of data protection and access control for existing Wi-Fi networks and was designed to be forward compatible with the upcoming IEEE 802.11i specification. In addition to user-authentication capabilities and support for the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP), WPA uses enhanced data encryption technology via the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP). TKIP provides important data encryption enhancements, including a per-packet key-mixing function, a message integrity check (MIC), an extended initialization vector (IV) with sequencing rules, and a re-keying mechanism.

When all of these protocols are brought together, these features make WPA a far stronger security solution than WEP. The way it works is that WPA keeps out unauthorized users by requiring all devices to have a valid password. Once the password has been verified, the TKIP-encryption process begins. Based on the original password, TKIP mathematically derives a new security key, which is then used by all the wireless clients for network access. TKIP will automatically update this key on a regular basis. The reason for this is that long and constantly changing encryption keys are extremely difficult to decode.

This is where the mechanics of WPA are substantially different from WEP. In WEP the same static encryption key is used over and over again. While no security mechanism can be considered “absolutely secure,” the protection given by WPA is strong enough to prevent most attacks, even many sophisticated ones. As such, WPA offers a pragmatic, economical security mechanism for most users.

You should note, however, that encryption for the U.S. military and other classified communications is handled by separate, secret algorithms. AES cryptography is based on the Rijndael (pronounced rain-dahl) algorithm created by Belgian cryptographers, Joan Daemen & Vincent Rijmen

802.11i provides improved encryption for networks that use 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g standards. Other features include key caching, which facilitates fast reconnection to the server for users who have temporarily gone offline, and pre-authentication, which allows fast roaming and is ideal for use with advanced applications such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). You may be be able to upgrade some WPA products to WPA2 by software. Others may require a hardware change due to the computationally intensive nature of WPA2’s required AES encryption.

Now let’s discuss the new WMM protocol. WMM or Wi-Fi Multimedia is a standard created to define quality of service (QoS) in Wi-Fi networks. It is a precursor to the upcoming 802.11e standard, which is meant to improve audio, video and voice applications transmitted over Wi-Fi.

Through the use of this standard, network administrators will be able to prioritize traffic that would suffer if delayed. An example of this is VoIP. Imagine, for example, that you just switched your telephone system to a VoIP system. Shortly after you notice that during the hours of peak network usage, your calls start dropping packets, making the conversations taking place at the time frustrating and useless. The QoS features of WMM would make sure that the VoIP calls receive the highest priority, ensuring that your calls always sound loud and clear. Currently, only a handful of products from vendors like Linksys, Atheros, Cisco, Broadcom and Intel have been certified for WMM, but expect to see more over the next few months.

Did You Know…
More than 5 billion text messages are sent each month in the U.S. alone, and as wireless phone sales increase, so will the number of text messages that are being sent worldwide. Text messaging has become a major revenue source for wireless carriers, but it has also introduced a new way for advertisers to to communicate with consumers.

Ronald Pacchiano is a contributing writer for SmallBusinessComputing.com and PracticallyNetworked.com, both are Internet.com sites. .

This article was originally published on October 28, 2005