One of the weaknesses of WEP was that it had a very simple concept of keys. The key was simply a data string that was loaded into both the access point and the wireless device. The key was used directly in authentication and encryption and was not changed except by manual reconfiguration. Such usage makes the keys extremely vulnerable to attack. This chapter has shown how RSN and WPA have a much more complicated system that ensures the keys used in the actual cryptographic operations never expose the master secret held between the client and the authentication server. The system also ensures that fresh keys are established every time a session is started.
A range of keys is used, derived from a pairwise master key. The PMK may itself be generated from the upper-layer authentication method in use. Two problems are discussed and solutions shown in this chapter. The first is how to derive keys in a way that ensures they are unpredictable and different each time they are generated. The second is how, safely, to ensure that all trusted parties generate the same keys while preventing an attacker joining in the key generation process or subverting it in any way.
These problems have been solved in WPA and RSN and this chapter describes how the solutions work. Once the keys have been safely generated, they must be used within a good security cipher. The next two chapters look at the choices for security protocol: TKIP and CCMP.