Wi-Fi is a
broadcast medium that enables any device to eavesdrop and
participate either as a legitimate or rogue device. Control and management frames such as authentication/deauthentication,
association/disassociation, beacons, and probes are used by wireless clients to select an AP and to initiate a session for
Unlike data traffic which can be encrypted to provide a level of confidentiality, these frames must be heard and understood
by all clients and therefore must be transmitted as open or unencrypted. While these frames cannot be encrypted, they must
be protected from forgery to protect the wireless medium from attacks. For example, an attacker could spoof management frames
from an AP to tear down a session between a client and AP.
The 802.11w protocol applies only to a set of robust management frames that are protected by the Management Frame Protection
(PMF) service. These include Disassociation, Deauthentication, and Robust Action frames.
Management frames that are considered as robust action and therefore protected are the following:
When 802.11w is implemented in the wireless medium, the following occur:
Client protection is added by the AP adding cryptographic protection (by including the MIC information element) to deauthentication
and disassociation frames preventing them from being spoofed in a DOS attack.
Infrastructure protection is added by adding a Security Association (SA) teardown protection mechanism consisting of an Association
Comeback Time and an SA-Query procedure preventing spoofed association request from disconnecting an already connected client.