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Chapter: Cryptography and Network Security Principles and Practice : Network and Internet Security : Wireless Network Security

IEEE 802.11i Wireless LAN Security

· IEEE 802.11i Services · IEEE 802.11i Phases of Operation Discovery Phase · Authentication Phase Key Management Phase · Protected Data Transfer Phase · The IEEE 802.11i Pseudorandom Function


There are two characteristics of a wired LAN that are not inherent in a wireless LAN.

1.                                       In order to transmit over a wired LAN, a station must be physically connected to the LAN. On the other hand, with a wireless LAN, any station within radio range of the other devices on the LAN can transmit. In a sense, there is a form of authentication with a wired LAN in that it requires some positive and presumably observable action to connect a station to a wired LAN.

2.                                       Similarly, in order to receive a transmission from a station that is part of a wired LAN, the receiving station also must be attached to the wired LAN. On the other hand, with a wireless LAN, any station within radio range can receive. Thus, a wired LAN provides a degree of privacy, limiting reception of data to stations connected to the LAN.

These differences between wired and wireless LANs suggest the increased need for robust security services and mechanisms for wireless LANs. The original

            specification included a set of security features for privacy and authentication that were quite weak. For privacy, 802.11 defined the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) algorithm. The privacy portion of the 802.11 standard contained major weak- nesses. Subsequent to the development of WEP, the 802.11i task group has developed a set of capabilities to address the WLAN security issues. In order to accelerate the introduction of strong security into WLANs, the Wi-Fi Alliance promulgated Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) as a Wi-Fi standard. WPA is a set of security mechanisms that eliminates most 802.11 security issues and was based on the current state of the 802.11i standard. The final form of the 802.11i standard is referred to as Robust Security Network (RSN). The Wi-Fi Alliance certifies vendors in compliance with the full 802.11i specification under the WPA2 program.


IEEE 802.11i Services

The 802.11i RSN security specification defines the following services.

                           Authentication: A protocol is used to define an exchange between a user and an AS that provides mutual authentication and generates temporary keys to be used between the client and the AP over the wireless link.

                           Access control:1 This function enforces the use of the authentication function, routes the messages properly, and facilitates key exchange. It can work with a variety of authentication protocols.

                           Privacy with message integrity: MAC-level data (e.g., an LLC PDU) are encrypted along with a message integrity code that ensures that the data have not been altered.

Figure 17.4a indicates the security protocols used to support these services, while Figure 17.4b lists the cryptographic algorithms used for these services.

IEEE 802.11i Phases of Operation

The operation of an IEEE 802.11i RSN can be broken down into five distinct phases of operation. The exact nature of the phases will depend on the configuration and the end points of the communication. Possibilities include (see Figure 17.3):

1.                                       Two wireless stations in the same BSS communicating via the access point (AP) for that BSS.

2.                                       Two wireless stations (STAs) in the same ad hoc IBSS communicating directly with each other.

3.                                       Two wireless stations in different BSSs communicating via their respective APs across a distribution system.

4.                                       A wireless station communicating with an end station on a wired network via its AP and the distribution system.

IEEE 802.11i security is concerned only with secure communication between the STA and its AP. In case 1 in the preceding list, secure communication is assured if each STA establishes secure communications with the AP. Case 2 is similar, with the AP functionality residing in the STA. For case 3, security is not provided across the distribution system at the level of IEEE 802.11, but only within each BSS. End- to-end security (if required) must be provided at a higher layer. Similarly, in case 4, security is only provided between the STA and its AP.

With these considerations in mind, Figure 17.5 depicts the five phases of oper- ation for an RSN and maps them to the network components involved. One new component is the authentication server (AS). The rectangles indicate the exchange of sequences of MPDUs. The five phases are defined as follows.

                 Discovery: An AP uses messages called Beacons and Probe Responses to advertise its IEEE 802.11i security policy. The STA uses these to identify an AP for a WLAN with which it wishes to communicate. The STA associates with the AP, which it uses to select the cipher suite and authentication mecha- nism when the Beacons and Probe Responses present a choice.

Authentication: During this phase, the STA and AS prove their identities to each other. The AP blocks non-authentication traffic between the STA and AS until the authentication transaction is successful. The AP does not participate in the authentication transaction other than forwarding traffic between the STA and AS.

                          Key generation and distribution: The AP and the STA perform several opera- tions that cause cryptographic keys to be generated and placed on the AP and the STA. Frames are exchanged between the AP and STA only.

                          Protected data transfer: Frames are exchanged between the STA and the end station through the AP. As denoted by the shading and the encryption module icon, secure data transfer occurs between the STA and the AP only; security is not provided end-to-end.

                          Connection termination: The AP and STA exchange frames. During this phase, the secure connection is torn down and the connection is restored to the original state.


Discovery Phase

We now look in more detail at the RSN phases of operation, beginning with the discovery phase, which is illustrated in the upper portion of Figure 17.6. The purpose of this phase is for an STA and an AP to recognize each other, agree on a set of secu- rity capabilities, and establish an association for future communication using those security capabilities.

SECURITY CAPABILITIES During this phase, the STA and AP decide on specific techniques in the following areas:

                          Confidentiality and MPDU integrity protocols for protecting unicast traffic (traffic only between this STA and AP)

                          Authentication method

                          Cryptography key management approach

Confidentiality and integrity protocols for protecting multicast/broadcast traf- fic are dictated by the AP, since all STAs in a multicast group must use the same pro- tocols and ciphers. The specification of a protocol, along with the chosen key length (if variable) is known as a cipher suite. The options for the confidentiality and integrity cipher suite are

                          WEP, with either a 40-bit or 104-bit key, which allows backward compatibility with older IEEE 802.11 implementations



                          Vendor-specific methods

The other negotiable suite is the authentication and key management (AKM) suite, which defines (1) the means by which the AP and STA perform mutual authentication and (2) the means for deriving a root key from which other keys may be generated. The possible AKM suites are


                          IEEE 802.1X

                          Pre-shared key (no explicit authentication takes place and mutual authentica- tion is implied if the STA and AP share a unique secret key)

                          Vendor-specific methods

MPDU EXCHANGE   The discovery phase consists of three  exchanges.

                 Network and security capability discovery: During this exchange, STAs dis- cover the existence of a network with which to communicate. The AP either periodically broadcasts its security capabilities (not shown in figure), indicated by RSN IE (Robust Security Network Information Element), in a specific channel through the Beacon frame; or responds to a station’s Probe Request through a Probe Response frame. A wireless station may discover available access points and corresponding security capabilities by either passively mon- itoring the Beacon frames or actively probing every channel.

Open system authentication: The purpose of this frame sequence, which pro- vides  no  security,  is  simply  to  maintain  backward  compatibility  with the IEEE 802.11 state machine, as implemented in existing IEEE 802.11 hard- ware. In essence, the two devices (STA and AP) simply exchange identifiers.

                          Association: The purpose of this stage is to agree on a set of security capabili- ties to be used. The STA then sends an Association Request frame to the AP. In this frame, the STA specifies one set of matching capabilities (one authenti- cation and key management suite, one pairwise cipher suite, and one group- key cipher suite) from among those advertised by the AP. If there is no match in capabilities between the AP and the STA, the AP refuses the Association Request. The STA blocks it too, in case it has associated with a rogue AP or someone is inserting frames illicitly on its channel. As shown in Figure 17.6, the IEEE 802.1X controlled ports are blocked, and no user traffic goes beyond the AP. The concept of blocked ports is explained subsequently.


Authentication Phase

As was mentioned, the authentication phase enables mutual authentication between an STA and an authentication server (AS) located in the DS. Authentication is designed to allow only authorized stations to use the network and to provide the STA with assurance that it is communicating with a legitimate network.


IEEE 802.1X ACCESS CONTROL APPROACH IEEE 802.11i makes use of another standard that was designed to provide access control functions for LANs. The standard is IEEE 802.1X, Port-Based Network Access Control. The authentication protocol that is used, the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP), is defined in the IEEE 802.1X standard. IEEE 802.1X uses the terms supplicant, authenticator, and authentication server (AS). In the context of an 802.11 WLAN, the first two terms correspond to the wireless station and the AP. The AS is typically a separate device on the wired side of the network (i.e., accessible over the DS) but could also reside directly on the authenticator.

Before a supplicant is authenticated by the AS using an authentication proto- col, the authenticator only passes control or authentication messages between the supplicant and the AS; the 802.1X control channel is unblocked, but the 802.11 data channel is blocked. Once a supplicant is authenticated and keys are provided, the authenticator can forward data from the supplicant, subject to predefined access control limitations for the supplicant to the network. Under these circumstances, the data channel is unblocked.

As indicated in Figure 17.7, 802.1X uses the concepts of controlled and uncon- trolled ports. Ports are logical entities defined within the authenticator and refer to physical network connections. For a WLAN, the authenticator (the AP) may have only two physical ports: one connecting to the DS and one for wireless communica- tion within its BSS. Each logical port is mapped to one of these two physical ports. An uncontrolled port allows the exchange of PDUs between the supplicant and the other AS, regardless of the authentication state of the supplicant. A controlled port allows the exchange of PDUs between a supplicant and other systems on the LAN only if the current state of the supplicant authorizes such an exchange.

                 The 802.1X framework, with an upper-layer authentication protocol, fits nicely with a BSS architecture that includes a number of wireless stations and an   AP.

However, for an IBSS, there is no AP. For an IBSS, 802.11i provides a more complex solution that, in essence, involves pairwise authentication between stations on the IBSS.


MPDU EXCHANGE The lower part of Figure 17.6 shows the MPDU exchange dictated by IEEE 802.11 for the authentication phase. We can think of authentication phase as consisting of the following three phases.

                          Connect to AS: The STA sends a request to its AP (the one with which it has an association) for connection to the AS. The AP acknowledges this request and sends an access request to the AS.

                          EAP exchange: This exchange authenticates the STA and AS to each other. A number of alternative exchanges are possible, as explained subsequently.

                          Secure key delivery: Once authentication is established, the AS generates a master session key (MSK), also known as the Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting (AAA) key and  sends  it  to  the  STA. As explained subsequently, all the cryptographic keys needed by the STA for secure communication with its AP are generated from this MSK. IEEE 802.11i does not prescribe a method for secure delivery of the MSK but relies on EAP for this. Whatever method is used, it involves the transmis- sion of an MPDU containing an encrypted MSK from the AS, via the AP, to the AS.

EAP EXCHANGE As mentioned, there are a number of possible EAP exchanges that can be used during the authentication phase. Typically, the message flow between STA and AP employs the EAP over LAN (EAPOL) protocol, and the message flow between the AP and AS uses the Remote Authentication Dial In User Service (RADIUS) protocol, although other options are available for both STA-to- AP and AP-to-AS exchanges. [FRAN07] provides the following summary of the authentication exchange using EAPOL and RADIUS.

1.                                               The EAP exchange begins with the AP issuing an EAP-Request/Identity frame to the STA.

2.                                               The STA replies  with  an  EAP-Response/Identity  frame,  which  the  AP receives over the uncontrolled port. The packet is then encapsulated in RADIUS over EAP and passed on to the RADIUS server as a RADIUS-Access-Request packet.

3.                                               The AAA server replies with a RADIUS-Access-Challenge packet, which is passed on to the STA as an EAP-Request. This request is of the appropriate authentication type and contains relevant challenge information.

4.                                               The STA formulates an EAP-Response message and sends it to the AS. The response is translated by the AP into a Radius-Access-Request with the response to the challenge as a data field. Steps 3 and 4 may be repeated multi- ple times, depending on the EAP method in use. For TLS tunneling methods, it is common for authentication to require 10 to 20 round trips.

5.                                               The AAA server grants access with a Radius-Access-Accept packet. The AP issues an EAP-Success frame. (Some protocols require confirmation of the EAP success inside the TLS tunnel for authenticity validation.) The controlled port is authorized, and the user may begin to access the network.

Note from Figure 17.6 that the AP controlled port is still blocked to general user traffic. Although the authentication is successful, the ports remain blocked until the temporal keys are installed in the STA and AP, which occurs during the 4-Way Handshake.


Key Management Phase

During the key management phase, a variety of cryptographic keys are generated and distributed to STAs. There are two types of keys: pairwise keys used for commu- nication between an STA and an AP and group keys used for multicast communica- tion. Figure 17.8, based on [FRAN07], shows the two key hierarchies, and Table 17.3 defines the individual keys.

PAIRWISE KEYS Pairwise keys are used for communication between a pair of devices, typically between an STA and an AP. These keys form a hierarchy beginning with a master key from which other keys are derived dynamically and used for a limited period of time.

At the top level of the hierarchy are two possibilities. A pre-shared key (PSK) is a secret key shared by the AP and a STA and installed in some fashion outside the scope of IEEE 802.11i. The other alternative is the master session key (MSK), also known as the AAAK, which is generated using the IEEE 802.1X protocol dur- ing the authentication phase, as described previously. The actual method of key generation depends on the details of the authentication protocol used. In either

case (PSK or MSK), there is a unique key shared by the AP with each STA with which it communicates. All the other keys derived from this master key are also unique between an AP and an STA. Thus, each STA, at any time, has one set of keys, as depicted in the hierarchy of Figure 17.8a, while the AP has one set of such keys for each of its STAs.

The pairwise master key (PMK) is derived from the master key. If a PSK is used, then the PSK is used as the PMK; if a MSK is used, then the PMK is derived from the MSK by truncation (if necessary). By the end of the authentication phase, marked by the 802.1x EAP Success message (Figure 17.6), both the AP and the STA have a copy of their shared PMK.

The PMK is used to generate the pairwise transient key (PTK), which in fact consists of three keys to be used for communication between an STA and AP after they have been mutually authenticated. To derive the PTK, the HMAC-SHA-1 function is applied to the PMK, the MAC addresses of the STA and AP, and nonces generated when needed. Using the STA and AP addresses in the generation of the PTK provides protection against session hijacking and impersonation; using nonces provides additional random keying material.

The three parts of the PTK are as follows.

                 EAP Over LAN (EAPOL) Key Confirmation Key (EAPOL-KCK): Supports the integrity and data origin authenticity of STA-to-AP control frames during operational setup of an RSN. It also performs an access control function: proof-of-possession of the PMK. An entity that possesses the PMK is autho- rized to use the link.

                 EAPOL Key Encryption Key (EAPOL-KEK): Protects the confidentiality of keys and other data during some RSN association    procedures.

                 Temporal Key (TK): Provides the actual protection for user traffic.

GROUP KEYS Group keys are used for multicast communication in which one STA sends MPDU’s to multiple STAs. At the top level of the group key hierarchy is the group master key (GMK). The GMK is a key-generating key used with other inputs to derive the group temporal key (GTK). Unlike the PTK, which is generated using material from both AP and STA, the GTK is generated by the AP and transmitted to its associated STAs. Exactly how this GTK is generated is undefined. IEEE 802.11i, however, requires that its value is computationally indistinguishable from random. The GTK is distributed securely using the pairwise keys that are already established. The GTK is changed every time a device leaves the network.

PAIRWISE KEY DISTRIBUTION The upper part of Figure 17.9 shows the MPDU exchange for distributing pairwise keys. This exchange is known as the 4-way handshake. The STA and SP use this handshake to confirm the existence of the PMK, verify the selection of the cipher suite, and derive a fresh PTK for the following data session. The four parts of the exchange are as follows.

                 AP : STA: Message includes the MAC address of the AP and a nonce (Anonce)

                 STA : AP: The STA generates its own nonce (Snonce) and uses both nonces and both MAC addresses, plus the PMK, to generate a PTK. The STA then sends a message containing its MAC address and Snonce, enabling the AP to generate the same PTK. This message includes a message integrity code (MIC)2 using HMAC-MD5 or HMAC-SHA-1-128. The key used with the MIC is KCK.

                 AP : STA: The AP is now able to generate the PTK. The AP then sends a message to the STA, containing the same information as in the first message, but this time including a MIC.

                 STA : AP: This is merely an acknowledgment message, again protected by a MIC.

GROUP KEY DISTRIBUTION For group key distribution, the AP generates a GTK and distributes it to each STA in a multicast group. The two-message exchange with each STA consists of the following:

AP : STA: This message includes the GTK, encrypted either with RC4 or with AES. The key used for encryption is KEK. A MIC value is appended.


                          STA : AP: The STA acknowledges receipt of the GTK. This message includes a MIC value.


Protected Data Transfer Phase

IEEE 802.11i defines two schemes for protecting data transmitted in 802.11 MPDUs: the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP), and the Counter Mode-CBC MAC Protocol (CCMP).

TKIP TKIP is designed to require only software changes to devices that are implemented with the older wireless LAN security approach called Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). TKIP provides two services:

                 Message integrity: TKIP adds a message integrity code (MIC) to the 802.11 MAC frame after the data field. The MIC is generated by an algorithm, called Michael, that computes a 64-bit value using as input the source and destination MAC address values and the Data field, plus key material.

                 Data confidentiality: Data confidentiality is provided by encrypting the MPDU plus MIC value using  RC4.

The 256-bit TK (Figure 17.8) is employed as follows. Two 64-bit keys are used with the Michael message digest algorithm to produce a message integrity code. One key is used to protect STA-to-AP messages, and the other key is used to protect AP-to-STA messages. The remaining 128 bits are truncated to generate the RC4 key used to encrypt the transmitted data.

For additional protection, a monotonically increasing TKIP sequence counter (TSC) is assigned to each frame. The TSC serves two purposes. First, the TSC is included with each MPDU and is protected by the MIC to protect against replay attacks. Second, the TSC is combined with the session TK to produce a dynamic encryption key that changes with each transmitted MPDU, thus making cryptanaly- sis more difficult.

CCMP CCMP is intended for newer IEEE 802.11 devices that are equipped with the hardware to support this scheme. As with TKIP, CCMP provides two services:

                 Message integrity: CCMP uses the cipher-block-chaining message authentica- tion code (CBC-MAC), described in Chapter   12.

                 Data confidentiality: CCMP uses the CTR block cipher mode of operation with AES for encryption. CTR is described in Chapter 6.

The same 128-bit AES key is used for both integrity and confidentiality. The scheme uses a 48-bit packet number to construct a nonce to prevent replay attacks.


The IEEE 802.11i Pseudorandom Function

At a number of places in the IEEE 802.11i scheme, a pseudorandom function (PRF) is used. For example, it is used to generate nonces, to expand pairwise keys, and to generate the GTK. Best security practice dictates that different pseudoran- dom number streams be used for these different purposes. However, for implemen- tation efficiency, we would like to rely on a single pseudorandom number generator function.

The PRF is built on the use of HMAC-SHA-1 to generate a pseudorandom bit stream. Recall that HMAC-SHA-1 takes a message (block of data) and a key of length at least 160 bits and produces a 160-bit hash value. SHA-1 has the property that the change of a single bit of the input produces a new hash value with no appar- ent connection to the preceding hash value. This property is the basis for pseudorandom number generation.

The IEEE 802.11i PRF takes four parameters as input and produces the desired number of random bits. The function is of the form PRF(K, A, B, Len), where


K                    = a secret key

A                     = a text string specific to the application (e.g., nonce generation or pair- wise key expansion)

B                    = some data specific to each case

Len = desired number of pseudorandom bits


For example, for the pairwise transient key for CCMP:


PTK = PRF(PMK, "Pairwise key expansion", min(AP– Addr, STA–Addr)|| max(AP–Addr, STA–Addr) | min (Anonce, Snonce) | max(Anonce, Snonce), 384)


So, in this case, the parameters are


K                          = PMK

A                    = the text string "Pairwise key expansion"

B                    = a sequence of bytes formed by concatenating the two MAC addresses and the two nonces

Len = 384 bits


Similarly, a nonce is generated by


Nonce = PRF(Random Number, "Init Counter", MAC | Time, 256)


where Time is a measure of the network time known to the nonce generator.

The group temporal key is generated by


GTK = PRF(GMK, "Group key expansion", MAC | Gnonce, 256)


Figure 17.10 illustrates the function PRF(K, A, B, Len). The parameter K serves as the key input to HMAC. The message input consists of four items concate- nated together: the parameter A, a byte with value 0, the parameter B, and a counter i. The counter is initialized to 0. The HMAC algorithm is run once, producing a 160-bit hash value. If more bits are required, HMAC is run again with the same inputs, except that i is incremented each time until the necessary number of bits is gener- ated. We can express the logic as


PRF(K, A, B, Len)

R - null string

for i - 0 to ((Len + 159)/160 1) do

R - R | HMAC–SHA–1(K, A ||0 |B |i)

Return Truncate–to–Len(R, Len)

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