Wired Equivalent Privacy

The basic method of defending your wireless connection [Protecting Your Wireless Network]from outside intruders is WEP, or Wired Equivalent Privacy. Although the encryption system's name suggests you'll be needing a cord, it's designed to use memorable passwords so that you can keep the leeches away (and nobody likes leeches).

Unfortunately, WEP was originally created by engineers, and not security experts. That makes it a pretty imperfect system for defending yourself when establishing a home Wi-Fi network, and it might lead many people to seek other methods of protecting their wireless connection.

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**Caption: WEP is the first defense against hackers, but not the best

In case you're wondering, the basic password that Windows requests of you when attempting to defend your wireless connection is WEP. It's a thin wall, but certainly better than nothing. The standard was ratified in 1999, meaning it's definitely a bit outdated. At that time, very few users had access to Wi-Fi technology, and over the course of nearly a decade that has certainly changed. Although only $5 million worth of Wi-Fi hardware sold in the year 2000, by mid-2001 the number had climbed to $50 million. The growth is even more rapid today as the technology drops in price.

But, back to WEP. Part of the problem with Wired Equivalent Privacy is that when the system was developed back in '99 the U.S. Government actually limited its keysize. Although not a major problem during an age when very few people used the technology, today the limited keysize (no more than 40 bits) makes it much easier for an ever-growing population of hackers to squeeze their way through WEP gateways.

Furthermore, WEP is a system that employs a hexadecimal format, meaning users who want to protect themselves must develop a password using 0-9, A-F hex characters. Typical passwords are A1B2C3D4E5, which are on the surface somewhat complicated, but also very predictable and easily cracked. It's far too hard for a user to find a compromise between something they will remember and something that fits the hexadecimal format.

Finally, by default WEP isn't even used. Most people setting up their home Wi-Fi are not prompted to provide a password, and when they are, the hexadecimal system is both unnecessarily complicated and difficult to use. Thus, even those users who realize that they should include a password for WEP become easily frustrated and leave their networks open to Wi-Fi theft and hacking.

We can help you develop a better defense. Just check out our steps to protecting your home Wi-Fi network and the guide to WPA [WPA].