In an open network you have the authentication frame on just the 802.11 level: enter image description here

but if the network has WEP or WPA(2/3) there will also be a four way handshake: enter image description here

My question is, where does the 4 way handshake fit in on the 802.11 authentication level? After the Authentication request?

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2 Answers 2


The 4-way handshake occurs after the client is Authenticated and Associated.

The 4-way handshake is used to generate the keys used to encrypt various types of traffic (Unicast, Multicast, Broadcast) between the AP and client.

enter image description here


Referring to the 4 states an 802.11 station can be with respect to the Robust Security Network (RSN), we see that:

  • moving from state 1 to state 2 happens when 802.11 Authentication completes successfully (the Open Systems Authentication you see in the diagram in the question)
  • moving from state 2 to state 3 happens when Association completes successfully

However, state 3 is "pending RSN Authentication". Getting to state 4 involves one of the following:

  • in personal mode, the station and AP share a shared secret (typically, derived from a shared passphrase), which then goes as input to the 4-way handshake. At no point in the 4-way handshake is it sent over the air, of course, but the 4-way handshake allows the various actual session keys to be derived by both sides.
  • in enterprise mode, the station goes through 802.1X authentication (various EAP-supported authentication methods are possible), followed by the station and AP proceeding with the 4-way handshake.

RSN 4 states

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