Wi-Fi Hotspots With Real Encryption Without User Interaction

One of the major issues of public Wi-Fi hotspots is that they are usually unencrypted which makes users an easy target for eavesdropping. Some Wi-Fi hotspots use encryption but the PSK password is the same for all users. As a consequence an attacker that intercepts the authentication procedure can decrypt the traffic easily. This means that the only thing that can be achieved by using WPA2-PSK encryption in public hotspots is a weak form of access control by trying to keep the password within the group of authorized users. Good luck with that. Thanks to this post over at Heise (in German) I got aware that Dan Harkins of Aruba (now owned by HP) is trying to change this in the IEEE:

What Dan proposes in his “Opportunistic Wireless Encryption (OWE)” document presented back in September 2015 is to use a Diffie-Hellman Key exchange instead of WPA2-PSK when establishing a connection to the Wi-Fi Access Point. The difference between DH-Key exchange and WPA2-PSK is that the user does not have to supply a password and that an encrypted tunnel for which no shared secret is required is used to exchange a per-device encryption key. In other words, the proposed solution works in the same way as the key exchange used by https to secure web traffic today. No password needs to be given and the individual key that is exchanged through the encrypted tunnel ensures that an attacker can’t decode the traffic even if he intercepted the exchange (which is possible with WPA2-PSK). Two problems solved (no password, real encryption) at the same time.

Unfortunately it seems that there is no wide spread support for the idea yet. This document suggests there weren’t enough supporters in a meeting in January 2016 to include the idea in the next update of the 802.11 Wi-Fi standards. Let’s hope that this will still change as the current state of public Wi-Fi security is simply unacceptable.