Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is a security protocol. It is part of the Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) 802.11b standard of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). IEEE, of course, is the largest professional association of electronic and electrical engineers headquartered in New York City. It operates primarily from New Jersey. Wi-Fi 802.11b, meanwhile, provides a wireless local area network (WLAN) a certain level of security and privacy that is comparable to that of a wired LAN.

WEP encrypts data transmitted over a WLAN. Its data encryption feature protects vulnerable wireless links between devices and access points. It makes LAN security mechanisms like password protection, end-to-end encryption, virtual private network (VPN) use, and authentication possible on WLANs to ensure privacy.

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WEP was ratified as a Wi-Fi security standard in September 1999. Its first versions were not particularly strong because it only used 64-bit encryption. The higher the encryption is, the more secure it is because it uses more digits in its encryption key. Even if its capacity increased to 128-bit then 256-bit, it remains weak.

As computing power increased, WEP became easier to exploit. Systems that rely on WEP require upgrades or replacement. In fact, the Wi-Fi Alliance officially retired WEP in 2004.

How Does Wired Equivalent Privacy Differ from Wi-Fi Protected Access?

Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) replaced WEP. It was formally adopted in 2003, a year before WEP officially retired. Its most common configuration WPA-Pre-Shared Key (PSK) uses a 256-bit key.

Unlike WEP, WPA does message integrity checks to determine if attackers captured or altered packets that passed between access points and systems. It also adheres to the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP), which uses a per-packet key system that is more secure than the fixed key system WEP employs. TKIP was later replaced by Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).

Even if WPA is significantly better than WEP, they both use TKIP. As such, recycled elements from WEP systems remained exploitable.

How Do Wired Equivalent Privacy and Wi-Fi Protected Access Differ from Wi-Fi Protected Access II?

Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2) replaced WPA in 2006. Unlike WPA, WPA2 made AES algorithm use mandatory. WPA2 also introduced the Counter Cipher Mode with Block Chaining Message Authentication Code Protocol (CCMP) to take TKIP’s place. WPA2 systems, however, still keep TKIP as a fallback system and so they would work with WPA devices.

WPA2 systems require attackers to already have access to a secured Wi-Fi network to gain access to specific keys to attack other devices on it. As such, WPA2 vulnerabilities are limited almost entirely to enterprise networks.

Wired Equivalent Privacy, Wi-Fi Protected Access, or Wi-Fi Protected Access II, Which Should You Use?

Given the enhancements that network protocols have undergone, from WPE to WPA to WPA2, it may be best to use WPA2 to secure your corporate or home network. While Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), a vulnerable component of WEP and WPA, is still present in WPA2, it can be disabled.

Ideally, when setting up a network, disable WPS and set the router to WPA2 + AES. WEP, unfortunately, is so weak that it is comparable to a chain-link fence. It merely tells outsiders to stay out, but anyone who wants in could just climb over it.

WEP devices are vulnerable to cloning, packet sniffing, wardriving, warshipping, and media access control (MAC) spoofing attacks. Hackers can exploit insufficiently secured Wi-Fi access points and routers to get into target networks and steal confidential data.