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I am a bit confused about two types of data encryption when I am connected to a wifi.

  1. The first encryption is used as a part of the wifi connection. The technologies used are wep, wpa, wpa2.

  2. The second encryption, SSL, has nothing to do with wifi.

To my understanding, both encryptions are optional. So my questions are:

  1. What is the difference between these two data encryptions?

  2. Do I need to have both?

  3. Why can't I just use SSL encryption for securing the wifi connection?

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This is where an understanding of the OSI model is useful: the different types of encryptions happen at different layers of communication.

WiFi encryption protects all communication from your device from the local network (i.e. your coffee shop's network), but not anything past the local network (i.e. the rest of the Internet). WiFi encryption is 'optional', but set up by the WiFi network (not optional as a user).

SSL encryption protects the individual connections you make with the individual destinations (i.e. connections to websites). This also protects specific communication from your device from the local network, but it also protects it all the way to the destination (some exceptions apply).

Here's the problem: you do not always have control over what connections are being sent out by your device. Without the local network protections (i.e. WiFi encryption) you expose all of that to anyone listening.

So, the best idea is to use both the network encryption (Wifi) and SSL encryption wherever possible. You do not have as many options as you think, and you do not have as much control over what is sent out by your device than you think.

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    In particular, since the WiFi encryption is between you and the AP, the owner of the AP can read all your traffic unencrypted. – Jörg W Mittag May 21 '17 at 11:10
  • But without SSL, Wifi encryption is not protecting any communications that go outside the local network, which is the vast majority. – Joshua Fox Jun 24 at 8:20
  • @JoshuaFox I'm not sure what you are trying to say. I already made the point you made in the 2nd paragrpah. – schroeder Jun 25 at 7:07
  • What is a common example of useful protections given by Wifi security? Example: The user accesses a non-HTTPS webservice (but then Wifi Security only protects from a very limited set of attachers. Another example: Unencrypted NFS or Samba that is only inside the LAN. But these protocols are rare. – Joshua Fox Jun 25 at 11:26

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