WEP or Wired Equivalent Privacy is a wireless security protocol or encryption algorithm based on IEEE 802.11 wireless networks. It was introduced in 1997 to provide wireless network security similar to ethernet or cable network. You can consider it as the first or initial wireless encryption standard conceived for the first generation wireless devices.

With time, the wireless network is becoming a favorite choice for users to access the internet because of convenience and mobility that it offers. However, the Wi-Fi or wireless connectivity is less secure in comparison to the wired connection such as an ethernet. In a wired network, data travels directly through a cable between users or systems.

But in the case of Wi-Fi, the data is openly broadcasted to a range of users and devices, and that’s where vulnerability comes into the picture. Sending data through a wireless network is sensitive to eavesdropping because anyone within the wireless network range can look into your data and even intercept without your permission.

To ensure wifi security and data protection, we need to encrypt the data transmitting through the wireless network so that it can only be deciphered with the decryption key and also by only intended recipient. Let

What is WEP?

The dire need of network security in wifi or wireless networks brought the advent of the first wireless security protocol, i.e., WEP or Wired Equivalent Privacy. Before this, even an early coder could write sniffer program to access the shared information on a Wi-Fi and could use it for their mischievous purpose.

A wireless key is nothing but a type of security password, which is exchanged between a router and a wireless device. This key is used to make sure the connection is authentic and the device which is trying to connect is legit.

WEP uses WEP wireless security key, which is a type of security passcode for accessing to Wi-Fi network. It enables a group of connected devices to exchange messages in an encrypted form, thus hiding the real message from the comfortable viewing of external miscreants.

It is only readable by the receiving devices. The keys are not transferred over the network but remain stored on the network adapter or the Windows Registry. The fundamental function of WEP is to protect the data as they are in transition across the network.

WEP authentication is generally of two types –

  1. Open System Authentication
    • Minimal security
    • All requesting devices are given access to the network
  2. Shared Key Authentication
    • Robust Security
    • The user must enter a pre-existing passkey to get access to the network

However, it wasn’t long when WEP was declared not as secure as once believed. It has been revealed that an avid coder could easily compromise your network within a matter of a minute or maybe seconds. WEP was no more secure. And we needed better encryption standards. This resulted in the advent of WPA and WPA2.

The major weakness of WEP

The primary failure of the WEP is due to the static encryption key comprised of the hex characters 0-9 and A-F, which is used by the devices on the network to encrypt every packet of information.

Due to this technical vulnerability, it becomes easy for an eavesdropper or a hacker to intercept WEP encrypted packets and deduce the key.

This loophole could have been solved by going for periodically changing the key, and the routers are already capable of storing four keys, but this leads to additional inconvenience and time lag as the key needs to be updated on both the router and all the devices in the network.

But later it has been found that frequent change of WEP keys is also not sufficient to keep the wireless network secure.

In 2001, several other vulnerabilities were identified in WEP. Later on, a large-scale cyber attack against T.J. Maxx in 2009 was traced back to these flaws. This led to phasing out of WEP usage in both enterprise and consumer devices, especially in the payment industry.

Moreover, with the advent of technology and immense computing power, the hackers are now more equipped to intercept and handle more and more data packets. They now can deduce the key in very little time; may be as small as a minute. Therefore, there was no other way but to discard WEP urgently and move to better wireless security options like WPA, WPA2 or WPA3.

In some places, WEP is still in use. This could be because it is still the default setting on their access points or routers or the devices installed are old which do not support newer advanced security.

WPA – Replacement for WEP

WPA stands for Wi-Fi Protected Access. This wifi security technology was developed to counter the weaknesses of WEP’s authentication and encryption features. WPA was made available in 2003. To provide stronger encryption, WPA uses a 128-bit TKIP (Temporary Key Integrity Protocol).

Instead of using a fixed key like WEP, TKIP dynamically produces a new key for each data packet. Refer to WPA, WPA2 to know more about this security protocol

How good is WPA?

In all measures, WPA is a better and secure choice over WEP but is this fully secure solution? No, because there is always a key to any lock that we create. The only measure we can take is to encrypt it as much to make it almost impossible to deduce.

Despite being more secure than WEP, WPA pre-shared keys are still vulnerable to attacks. This makes it essential to ensure that password is strong enough to prevent brute force attacks.

A brute force attack is a trial and error method where an automated software generates a large number of guesses to determine the passphrase.

To counter the above problem, in January 2018, the Wi-Fi Alliance has announced a new standard, WPA3. WPA3 uses 192-bit encryption as compared 128-bit in WPA and WPA2.

It also introduces individualized encryption for each user. It is claimed that this will mitigate security issues posed by weak passwords.

Over to you

Even though WEP is no match to present standards, it still maintains a familiar presence in both business and home wireless devices. It will always be regarded as the first milestone in the development of secure wireless standards.

Technology keeps adapting to the new ways to hacking prosper. WPA3 is the latest wireless security protocol and has been reputed as the most secure standard so far.

Check your wireless router settings at your home and check which encryption mechanism you have adopted. Switch to WPA2 or WPA3 if your router supports that.