ESP32 Wi-Fi Security Features
Support for Protected Management Frames (PMF)
Support for WPA3-Personal
Support for Opportunistic Wireless Encryption (OWE)
In addition to traditional security methods (WEP/WPA-TKIP/WPA2-CCMP), ESP32 Wi-Fi supports state-of-the-art security protocols, namely Protected Management Frames (PMF), Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 and Enhanced Open™ based on Opportunistic Wireless Encryption. WPA3 provides better privacy and robustness against known attacks on traditional modes. Enhanced Open™ enhances the security and privacy of users connecting to open (public) Wireless Networks without authentication.
Protected Management Frames (PMF)
In Wi-Fi, management frames such as beacons, probes, (de)authentication, and (dis)association are used by non-AP stations to scan and connect to an AP. Unlike data frames, these frames are sent unencrypted.
An attacker can use eavesdropping and packet injection to send spoofed (de)authentication/(dis)association frames at the right time, leading to attacks such as Denial-of-Service (DOS) and man-in-the-middle.
PMF provides protection against these attacks by encrypting unicast management frames and providing integrity checks for broadcast management frames. These include deauthentication, disassociation, and robust management frames. It also provides a Secure Association (SA) teardown mechanism to prevent spoofed association/authentication frames from disconnecting already connected clients.
There are three types of PMF configuration modes on both the station and AP sides:
API & Usage
ESP32 supports PMF in both the station and SoftAP mode. For both, the default mode is PMF Optional. For even higher security, PMF Required mode can be enabled by setting the
required flag in
pmf_cfg while using the
esp_wifi_set_config() API. This results in the device only connecting to a PMF-enabled device and rejecting others. PMF Optional can be disabled using
esp_wifi_disable_pmf_config() API. If SoftAP is started in WPA3 or WPA2/WPA3 mixed mode, trying to disable PMF results in an error.
capable flag in
pmf_cfg is deprecated and set to
true internally. This is to take the additional security benefit of PMF whenever possible.
Enterprise security is the secure authentication mechanism for enterprise wireless networks. It uses the RADIUS server for authentication of network users before connecting to the Access Point (AP). The authentication process is based on 802.1X policy and comes with different Extended Authentication Protocol (EAP) methods such as TLS, TTLS, PEAP, and EAP-FAST. RADIUS server authenticates the users based on their credentials (username and password), digital certificates, or both.
ESP32 supports Wi-Fi Enterprise only in station mode.
ESP32 supports WPA2-Enterprise and WPA3-Enterprise. WPA3-Enterprise builds upon the foundation of WPA2-Enterprise with the additional requirement of using Protected Management Frames (PMF) and server certificate validation on all WPA3 connections. WPA3-Enterprise also offers an additional secure mode using 192-bit minimum-strength security protocols and cryptographic tools to better protect sensitive data. The 192-bit security mode offered by WPA3-Enterprise ensures the right combination of cryptographic tools is used and sets a consistent baseline of security within a WPA3 network. WPA3-Enterprise 192-bit mode is only supported by modules having
SOC_WIFI_GCMP_SUPPORT support. Enable CONFIG_ESP_WIFI_SUITE_B_192 flag to support WPA3-Enterprise with 192-bit mode.
- ESP32 supports the following EAP methods:
EAP-TLS: This is a certificate-based method and only requires SSID and EAP-IDF.
PEAP: This is a Protected EAP method. Usernames and passwords are mandatory.
- EAP-TTLS: This is a credential-based method. Only server authentication is mandatory while user authentication is optional. Username and Password are mandatory. It supports different Phase2 methods, such as:
PAP: Password Authentication Protocol.
CHAP: Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol.
MSCHAP and MSCHAP-V2.
EAP-FAST: This is an authentication method based on Protected Access Credentials (PAC) which also uses identity and password. Currently, CONFIG_ESP_WIFI_MBEDTLS_TLS_CLIENT flag should be disabled to use this feature.
Example wifi/wifi_enterprise demonstrates all the supported Wi-Fi Enterprise methods except EAP-FAST. Please refer wifi/wifi_eap_fast for the EAP-FAST example. EAP method can be selected from the Example Configuration menu in
idf.py menuconfig. Refer to examples/wifi/wifi_enterprise/README.md for information on how to generate certificates and run the example.
Wi-Fi Protected Access-3 (WPA3) is a set of enhancements to Wi-Fi access security intended to replace the current WPA2 standard. It includes new features and capabilities that offer significantly better protection against different types of attacks. It improves upon WPA2-Personal in the following ways:
WPA3 uses Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE), which is a password-authenticated key agreement method based on Diffie-Hellman key exchange. Unlike WPA2, the technology is resistant to offline-dictionary attacks, where the attacker attempts to determine a shared password based on a captured 4-way handshake without any further network interaction.
Disallows outdated protocols such as TKIP, which is susceptible to simple attacks like MIC key recovery attacks.
Mandates Protected Management Frames (PMF), which provides protection for unicast and multicast robust management frames which include Disassoc and Deauth frames. This means that the attacker cannot disrupt an established WPA3 session by sending forged Assoc frames to the AP or Deauth/Disassoc frames to the station.
Provides forward secrecy, which means the captured data cannot be decrypted even if the password is compromised after data transmission.
ESP32 station also supports following additional Wi-Fi CERTIFIED WPA3™ features:
Transition Disable : WPA3 defines transition modes for client devices so that they can connect to a network even when some of the APs in that network do not support the strongest security mode. Client device implementations typically configure network profiles in a transition mode by default. However, such a client device could be subject to an active downgrade attack in which the attacker causes the client device to use a lower security mode in order to exploit a vulnerability with that mode. WPA3 has introduced the Transition Disable feature to mitigate such attacks, by enabling client devices to change from a transition mode to an “only” mode when connecting to a network, once that network indicates it fully supports the higher security mode. Enable
wifi_sta_config_tto enable this feature for ESP32 station.
SAE PUBLIC-KEY (PK) : As the password at small public networks is shared with multiple users, it may be relatively easy for an attacker to find out the password, which is sufficient to launch an evil twin attack. Such attacks are prevented by an extension to WPA3-Personal called SAE-PK. The SAE-PK authentication exchange is very similar to the regular SAE exchange, with the addition of a digital signature sent by the AP to the client device. The client device validates the public key asserted by the AP based on the password fingerprint and verifies the signature using the public key. So even if the attacker knows the password, it does not know the private key to generate a valid signature, and therefore the client device is protected against an evil twin attack. Enable CONFIG_ESP_WIFI_ENABLE_SAE_PK and
wifi_sta_config_tto add support of SAE PK for ESP32 station.
SAE PWE Methods: ESP32 station as well as SoftAP supports SAE Password Element derivation method Hunting And Pecking and Hash to Element (H2E). H2E is computationally efficient as it uses fewer iterations than Hunt and Peck, and also it mitigates side-channel attacks. These can be configured using the parameter
wifi_ap_config_tfor station and SoftAP respectively. Hunt and peck, H2E both can be enabled by using
Please refer to the Security section of Wi-Fi Alliance’s official website for further details.
Setting up WPA3 Personal with ESP32
A configuration option CONFIG_ESP_WIFI_ENABLE_WPA3_SAE is provided to enable/disable WPA3 for the station. By default, it is kept enabled. If disabled, ESP32 will not be able to establish a WPA3 connection. Also under the Wi-Fi component, a configuration option CONFIG_ESP_WIFI_SOFTAP_SAE_SUPPORT is provided to enable/disable WPA3 for SoftAP. Additionally, since PMF is mandated by WPA3 protocol, PMF Optional is set by default for station and SoftAP. PMF Required can be configured using Wi-Fi configuration. For WPA3 SoftAP, PMF Required is mandatory and will be configured and stored in NVS implicitly if not specified by the user.
Refer to Protected Management Frames (PMF) on how to set this mode.
After configuring all required settings for the WPA3-Personal station, application developers need not worry about the underlying security mode of the AP. WPA3-Personal is now the highest supported protocol in terms of security, so it is automatically selected for the connection whenever available. For example, if an AP is configured to be in WPA3 Transition Mode, where it advertises as both WPA2 and WPA3 capable, the station chooses WPA3 for the connection with the above settings.
After configuring all required setting for WPA3-Personal SoftAP, application developers have to set
WIFI_AUTH_WPA3_PSK for authmode in
wifi_ap_config_t to start AP in WPA3 security. SoftAP can be also configured to use
WIFI_AUTH_WPA2_WPA3_PSK mixed mode.
Note that binary size will be increased by about 6.5 kilobytes after enabling CONFIG_ESP_WIFI_SOFTAP_SAE_SUPPORT.
Wi-Fi Enhanced Open™
Enhanced Open™ is used for providing security and privacy to users connecting to open (public) wireless networks, particularly in scenarios where user authentication is not desired or distribution of credentials impractical. Each user is provided with unique individual encryption keys that protect data exchange between a user device and the Wi-Fi network. Protected Management Frames further protect management traffic between the access point and the user device. Enhanced Open™ is based on the Opportunistic Wireless Encryption (OWE) standard. OWE Transition Mode enables a seamless transition from Open unencrypted WLANs to OWE WLANs without adversely impacting the end-user experience.
ESP32 supports Wi-Fi Enhanced Open™ only in station mode.
Setting up OWE with ESP32
A configuration option CONFIG_ESP_WIFI_ENABLE_WPA3_OWE_STA and configuration parameter
wifi_sta_config_t is provided to enable OWE support for the station. To use OWE transition mode, along with the configuration provided above, authmode from
wifi_scan_threshold_t should be set to