What Are WEP, WPA, and WPA2? Which Is Best?

WEP vs WPA vs WPA2 - Know Why the Differences Matter

Caucasian man in hoody sitting at office desk
Blend Images - John Lund/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

The acronyms WEP, WPA, and WPA2 refer to different wireless encryption protocols that are intended to protect the information you send and receive over a wireless network. Choosing which protocol to use for your own network can be a bit confusing if you're not familiar with their differences.

Below is a look at the history and a comparison of these protocols so you can come to a solid conclusion about which you might want to use for your own home or business.

What They Mean and Which to Use

These wireless encryption protocols were created by the Wi-Fi Alliance, an association of over 300 companies in the wireless network industry. The first protocol the Wi-Fi Alliance created was WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), introduced in the late 1990s.

WEP, however, had serious security weaknesses and has been superseded by WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access). Despite being easily hacked, however, WEP connections are still widely in use and may be providing a false sense of security to the many people who are using WEP as the encryption protocol for their wireless networks.

The reason WEP is still used is likely either because they haven't changed the default security on their wireless access points/routers or because these devices are older and not capable of WPA or higher security.

Just as WPA replaced WEP, WPA2 has replaced WPA as the most current security protocol. WPA2 implements the latest security standards, including "government-grade" data encryption. Since 2006, all Wi-Fi certified products must use WPA2 security.

If you're looking for a new wireless card or device, make sure it's labeled as Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ so you know it complies with the latest security standard. For existing connections, make sure your wireless network is using the WPA2 protocol, particularly when transmitting confidential personal or business information.

Wireless Security Implementation

To jump right in to encrypting your network, see How to Encrypt Your Wireless Network. However, keep reading here to learn how the security applies to the router and the client that connects to it.

Using WEP/WPA/WPA2 On the Wireless Access Point or Router

During the initial setup, most wireless access points and routers today let you select the security protocol to use. While this is, of course, a good thing, some people don't care to change it.

The problem with that is that the device may be set up with WEP by default, which we now know isn't secure. Or, even worse, the router may be completely open with no encryption and password at all.

If you are setting up your own network, make sure to use WPA2 or, at the bare minimum, WPA.

Using WEP/WPA/WPA2 On the Client Side

The client side is your laptop, desktop computer, smartphone, etc.

When you try to establish a connection to a security-enabled wireless network for the first time, you'll be prompted to enter the security key or passphrase in order to successfully connect to the network. That key or passphrase is the WEP/WPA/WPA2 code that you entered into your router when you configured the security.

If you're connecting to a business network, it's most likely provided by the network administrator.