What Does WEP on Wi-Fi Mean?

by Nicole Martinez

When you log into your router to implement security protocols, you will see options such as WEP. When you add wired equivalency encryption to your wireless network, users must know the passkey to access the network to send and receive data or use your Internet connection. WEP is one of several security options that your wireless router will offer.

Definition

WEP, short for wired equivalent privacy, is a security protocol for wireless networks. This protocol originated to provide security for the over-the-air-signals that new wireless local area networks -- WLANS -- were using. Before the advent of WEP, anyone within range could detect and potentially log onto an unsecured wireless connection and access the data. WEP provides additional encryption to the information, making it more difficult for unauthorized users to gain access to sensitive information. Previously, these users would have to physically connect, with a wire, to access a wired network.

Usage

When you create a WLAN in your home or place or business, your router software will allow to specify a type of security. If you choose wired equivalency privacy, you will set a password, or passkey, that users must enter before they can connect to your network. When you are attempting to connect to a wireless network, your device -- phone or computer, for example -- will typically alert you of the type of security that is in place for each network. Thus, you can check with the administrator to grant access with the proper passkey or, if you do not have access, you can choose to connect to an unsecured network instead.

Weaknesses

WEP was the original wireless security protocol; however, it has since been superseded by more secure technologies. Criticisms of wired equivalency privacy point out the short length of wireless keys, which results in fewer combinations. Thus, hackers can try fewer combinations before finding the correct key. Security is further compromised by the use of masters keys, rather than temporary keys, that remain unchanged by the system. Unless the users make the effort to change these keys, they remain the same, allowing hackers more time to access the wireless network.

Alternatives

Other protocols have taken the place of WEP, offering more security to your wireless networks. The Wi-Fi Alliance launched the WPA standard, or Wi-Fi Protected Access, in October 2003 to replace WEP. WPA provided advanced security because of longer keys, which resulted in more possible combinations, as well as the use of temporary encryption keys. Even if a hacker could determine a temporary key, the key would eventually change and the hacker would not have access to the master key. WPA also uses technology to determine if the received data has been tampered with. WPA2 has further improved upon WLAN security by offering even more strict encryption.

About the Author

Nicole Martinez began writing in 2010 and has since been published on various websites. She primarily writes about computer- and internet-related topics, especially those concerning website maintenance and programming.

Photo Credits

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