EAPOL 4-Way Handshake

EAPOL stands for Extensible Authentication Protocol(EAP) over LAN. A simple 4-way handshake is shown pictorially below

A top level description of a successful 4-Way-Handshake is explained below

  1. At the start of the 4-way handshake, both the Access Point and the 802.11 station contain the PMK
  2. The Access Point and the 802.11 Station generate a random sequence at their respective ends
  3. The Access point random sequence is termed as ANonce (Short for AP Nonce) and the 802.11 Station random sequence is termed as SNonce (Short for Station Nonce)
  4. The Access Point sends the AP Nonce in the first EAPOL message to the 802.11 Station
  5. The different elements now in the possession of the 802.11 station are
    1. AP Nonce
    2. Station Nonce
    3. Station MAC Address
    4. AP MAC Address
  6. The 802.11 Station – now has all the material to generate the Pairwise Transient Key – PTK, a key which is used to generate further keys and temporal keys for Data encapsulation.
  7. The 802.11 station sends the Station Nonce to the AP in EAPOL Message 2 along-with a MIC value (i.e. MIC(Key Confirmation Key, EAPOL)) which is computed over the body of the EAPOL key frame with the Key MIC field initially set to Zero
  8. The Access Point on receipt of the SNonce – generates the Pairwise Transient Key and re-computes the MIC at its end.
  9. The Access Point goes ahead verifies the MIC at its end and in response sends the following to the 802.11 station
    1. Install PTK set to 1
    2. The Group Temporal Key (GTK) for Multicast traffic, if GTK is pre-negotiated
    3. Receive Sequence Counter for the GTK key
    4. MIC computed over the EAPOL frame
  10. The supplicant verifies the MIC and sends Message 4 to the Access point with a MIC calculation. At this Juncture – the 802.11 station has the necessary Key material to configure to the hardware and the 802.11 station can go ahead and configure the Hardware with the PTK and the GTK
  11. The Access point on receiving Message 4, will verify the MIC computed and invoke its MLME.SETKEYS request to install the PTK and GTK
  12. Finally the Data port is opened and unicast Data can be transmitted using the temporal keys in PTK and Multicast data using the GTK

NOTE: The EAPOL frame is silently discarded by the 802.11 Station/AP if the Key Sequence counter value in a particular EAPOL frame received was already sent in a previous EAPOL frame or the MIC received by either party is not properly decoded. No indication of failure is reported to the sender of the EAPOL frame 

The 802.1X/PSK Mechanism generates a number of security contexts. The security contexts are briefly looked at in the next article

Security Association Contexts


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  2. Nicely explained but I don’t understand what are temporal keys

    1. Jataayu

      Hi Saima,
      Temporal keys in the EAPOL handshake are the final keys that are generated which will be used for encryption or decryption

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