How Does RADIUS Improve WiFi Security?

Written by Kelsey Kinzer on January 12, 2023

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Updated on June 21, 2024

Giving out your Wi-Fi password to everyone is convenient, but risky. Plenty of organizations keep the local Wi-Fi password published in the lobby or written on the conference room whiteboard. This makes it easy to connect, but also increases your exposure to security risks.

The problem with publicly posting your Wi-Fi password is it allows intruders to jump onto your Wi-Fi network and put your organization at risk. It gives bad actors instant access to your network, enabling them to search for vulnerabilities to exploit.

RADIUS is an industry-standard technology that makes it harder for threat actors to compromise Wi-Fi networks. It makes Wi-Fi access management easier and more secure. By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what RADIUS does to improve Wi-Fi security, and how to implement it at your organization.

What is RADIUS?

At its most basic, RADIUS is an acronym for Remote Authentication Dial In User Service. The “Dial In” part of the name shows RADIUS’s age: it’s been around since 1991. 

However, today RADIUS is widely used to authenticate and authorize users to remote Wi-Fi networks, VPNs, network infrastructure gear, and more. It manages connections between your network and remote servers, VPN connections, wireless access points, and managed network access switches. 

This process is generally completed with the WPA2 enterprise protocol on wireless access points (WAPs). Each user provides their SSID and passphrase to gain access to the network. 

But it isn’t just remote network access that IT organizations are looking to leverage RADIUS for. RADIUS can be applied to on-premises networks, dramatically enhancing network security.

How RADIUS Improves Wi-Fi Security

RADIUS pairs with directory services solutions like Microsoft Active Directory (AD) or OpenLDAP to fortify security for wireless networks. In order to access a wireless network secured by RADIUS, the user must provide their own unique, core set of credentials. 

Typically, the credentials a user has for their work system are the same ones they will use to log in to the network. These credentials move from the user’s desktop, laptop, or mobile device to the Wi-Fi access point and then on to the RADIUS server, to be matched to the credentials stored in the directory service. 

RADIUS historically uses one of three authentication protocols to do this:

  • EAP-TLS is a secure, certificate-based protocol that offers universal directory support and passwordless credentials. It offers fast authentication speed and public-private key encryption.
  • PEAP-MSCHAPv2 is an Active Directory protocol with an encryption algorithm that was compromised in 1995. It is dependent on passwords, making it vulnerable to phishing and credential-based attacks. Despite these issues, it is still widely used by many organizations.
  • EAP-TTLS/PAP also uses credentials to authenticate users, which means it shares the same vulnerabilities as PEAP-MSCHAPv2. Alarmingly, it also sends Wi-Fi authentication credentials in cleartext format, making them vulnerable to Man-in-the-Middle Attacks.

Note: Note: Some RADIUS servers can also store your end user credentials natively, but usually, the core identity for a user is stored within an organization’s identity provider, rather than a single protocol server such as a RADIUS server.

With RADIUS in place, you no longer need to worry about bad actors stealing your network SSID and passphrase from a conference room whiteboard. 

That is only a portion of the credentials that you need to access the network. Without unique user credentials authenticated by the directory service, a user can’t get on the network. The end result is vastly improved network security. 

How RADIUS Enhances Credential Security

Modern RADIUS implementations enable network security teams to perform real-time user verifications against cloud identity providers like Azure Active Directory, Okta, and others. This allows organizations to enforce security policies without relying on credential-based security workflows that are susceptible to attack.

For example, credential-based protocols like PEAP-MSCHAPv2 or EAP-TTLS/PAP may require users to authenticate using their work account passwords. If an attacker uses social engineering to learn a user’s account credentials, they could immediately gain privileged access to the network itself.

A passwordless approach leveraging public-private key cryptography does not have this vulnerability. Even if an attacker learns a user’s account credentials, they won’t be able to authenticate without also tricking the cloud identity provider — a much more complicated process.

Ultimately, using certificates eliminates the risks associated with poor-quality passwords, reset policies, and forgotten passwords. Automated passwordless authentication helps maintain credential security by reducing the need for passwords in processes where they could be compromised. 

Per-User VLAN Tagging

For extra security, you can also use RADIUS to implement per-user Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) tagging. This segments your Wi-Fi network into as many virtual networks as you may need. Then, individual users or groups (think departments in your organization) are assigned to a specific VLAN or VLANs. 

That means that even if one of your users or VLANs were compromised, your entire network infrastructure would not be at risk. Each user or group essentially acts as their own VLAN, and the data packets they send on the network remain within the segment that user or group has access to.

Configuring VLAN tags requires setting and maintaining consistent standards. If your VLAN processes and procedures are not standardized, setting up per-user VLAN tagging can actually cause more problems than it solves. 

Investing in mobile device management and network monitoring solutions helps to drive the value of per-user VLAN tagging and ensures the security of RADIUS implementations. Use these tools to make sure the VLAN tagging process does not suffer from mismatched VLAN IDs, overloaded VLANs, or misconfigured switches and trunks.

Solving RADIUS Implementation Challenges

Traditional on-premises RADIUS implementations come with some steep challenges. The primary issue with standing up a RADIUS server stems from the fact that you need to deploy and configure hardware on your own, then integrate it with many different components in your network.

First, in order for the RADIUS server to know which users can and cannot access the network, you need to integrate it with your directory service. This can be quite a challenge in itself, since not all directory services integrate easily with RADIUS.

Second, you need to define and configure your authentication policies in a way that meets your security needs. You may need to establish processes for user management, logging and auditing, and more. You may also need to deploy redundancy measures to ensure the availability of wireless networking security in the face of a security incident.

The bottom line is that it’s time consuming to implement RADIUS within a network if you need to install, configure, and manage all of the pieces yourself. It can require specialist expertise that is not always immediately available — especially if you wish to benefit from additional security configurations like VLAN tagging.

However, organizations that bypass the on-premises deployment process can leverage the benefits of RADIUS in a much more efficient way. Harnessing cloud technology makes the implementation process much easier.

Cloud-Hosted RADIUS Simplifies Implementation

Cloud RADIUS solutions offer a streamlined path to improved wireless networking security. Instead of making significant upfront investments in hardware and onboarding hard-to-find specialist talent, you can leverage RADIUS as a cloud-delivered application directly.

Here are some of the advantages cloud RADIUS offers to IT leaders who want to secure their wireless networking capabilities:

  • No hardware deployments. There is no need to purchase and maintain additional on-premises hardware. Your RADIUS solution runs on a cloud-delivered software-as-a-service subscription.
  • No additional expertise requirements. Without complex hardware to deploy, there is no need to hire additional network engineering staff to maintain it.
  • Cloud scalability and flexibility. Cloud-hosted infrastructure ensures your organization pays for RADIUS according to its real-world usage, eliminating the risk of deploying hardware you don’t use.
  • On-demand support. Expert wireless networking and security expertise is available to help you make the most of your RADIUS implementation and address security blind spots.
  • Faster implementation. Setting up and configuring a traditional RADIUS server can involve more than 60 complex technical steps. With JumpCloud’s cloud-native RADIUS implementation, the entire process takes less than 10 minutes.

Cloud RADIUS Makes Securing Wi-Fi Easy

JumpCloud’s open directory platform includes a Cloud RADIUS solution that makes the implementation process painless compared to on-premises alternatives. Just like traditional RADIUS servers, JumpCloud enables boosted network security — users each leverage their own unique set of credentials to access networks.

The primary difference between Cloud RADIUS and older RADIUS solutions is that JumpCloud has done the hard part for you. We have gone through the process of setting up independent RADIUS servers around the globe, streamlining integration with cloud identity providers, and adding valuable security features like multi-factor authentication and VPN support.

Our cloud-delivered service gives you access to a scalable, robust solution for securing wireless networks without compromising the availability of wireless access points for authenticated users. We handle mobile device management and secure user access on wireless networks so that you don’t have to.

The result is that you can enable RADIUS from anywhere and not have to worry about maintenance, security, downtime, resiliency, or redundancy. We take care of all the heavy lifting so you can simply enjoy the benefits of a secure network. 

Try Cloud RADIUS for Free Today

To get started with Cloud RADIUS today, sign up for a free JumpCloud trial and learn how to configure RADIUS at JumpCloud University.

For further questions, drop us a line.

Kelsey Kinzer

Kelsey is a passionate storyteller and Content Writer at JumpCloud. She is particularly inspired by the people who drive innovation in B2B tech. When away from her screen, you can find her climbing mountains and (unsuccessfully) trying to quit cold brew coffee.

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