What Is WPA2 Encryption?

By Kevin Lee

People connect wirelessly to networks in multiple ways. Some surf the Internet using laptops at public Wi-Fi locations. Others use routers that they purchase or rent from their Internet service providers. Routers are devices that enable you to connect to a cable or DSL modem. Regardless of where you are accessing a network wirelessly, it is important to use an encryption method, such as WPA2, to ensure that other people do not intercept your private information as you communicate over the network.

Need for WPA2 Security

After you plug a modem into your router, it can send your modem’s signal through the air to nearby computers. Your desktop or laptop must have a wireless card or adapter to pick up that signal so that you can connect to the network. After you acquire a router, you have the option to protect your wireless network by turning on encryption. Many wireless routers don't enable encryption by default. You may think that no hackers are close enough to monitor your network, but your neighbors -- in surrounding homes or apartments -- may be able to pick up your router's signal and gain access to your computer.

WEP, WPA and WPA2 Encryption

Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP, and Wi-Fi Protected Access, or WPA, are two terms you may encounter when learning about wireless network security. When you enable encryption in your router, you can often choose between WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption methods. WPA2 is a newer, more secure version of WPA. WEP is an older technology you will find on older routers. If you need assistance enabling encryption, consult your router's manufacturer or your Internet service provider's website.

WPA2 Benefits

Most computer hardware sold since 2003 can take advantage of WPA2 encryption technology. One reason that WPA2 is more secure than WPA is because it uses a more advanced encryption key named "AES-CCMP." In addition to having stricter encryption standards, WPA2 helps wireless users in other ways, such as enabling them to disconnect from a wireless network and reconnect without having to go through a number of authentication process. If you have a choice of encryption methods, choose WPA2 if it is available when setting up your wireless network.

WEP, WPA and WPA2 Password Considerations

It is possible to crack Wi-Fi networks. Attackers have successfully compromised networks that use WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption, according to Mike Halsey, author of "Beginning Windows 8." Attackers can simply park near a location that broadcasts Wi-Fi and attempt to crack the network's security. Since WEP encryption methods let you use shorter, less-secure passwords, attackers find it easier to crack WEP networks. WPA passwords are longer and more secure, but you should use WPA2 when you really need maximum protection. You'll have to enter a longer password into your computer that has WPA2 protection, but you only enter the password once on each computer that you set up to use WPA2.