What Are WEP and WPA? Which Is Best?

WEP vs. WPA vs. WPA2 vs. WPA3: Why the differences matter

The acronyms WEP, WPA, WPA2, and WPA3 refer to wireless encryption protocols intended to protect the information you send and receive over a wireless network. Choosing which protocol to use for your network can be a bit confusing if you're not familiar with the differences.

Below is a look at the history of wireless encryption and a comparison of these protocols so that you can decide which you should use for your home or business.

In short, consider WPA3. Not all devices support it, but if yours does, it's important to adopt it so that the most up-to-date security is available for the devices that currently connect and will eventually connect to your Wi-Fi network.

What They Mean and Which to Use

The Wi-Fi Alliance, an association of hundreds of companies in the wireless network industry, created these wireless encryption protocols. The group's first protocol was WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), introduced in the late 1990s.

WEP had severe security weaknesses, and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) superseded it. However, despite being easily hacked, WEP connections are still used and might provide a false sense of security to those securing their networks with WEP.

The reason WEP is still around is likely either because the network administrator hasn't changed the default security on their wireless routers or because the device is too old and doesn't support newer encryption methods like WPA.

Just as WPA replaced WEP, WPA was replaced by WPA2, which WPA3 has since replaced as the most current security protocol. WPA3 implements the latest security standards, including government-grade data encryption. Since 2018, all Wi-Fi-certified products must use WPA3 security.

If you're looking for a new wireless card or device, make sure it's labeled as Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ so that you know it complies with the latest security standard. Ensure your wireless network uses the WPA3 protocol for existing connections, particularly when transmitting confidential personal or business information.

Using WEP or WPA on a Router

Most modern wireless access points and routers let you select the security protocol to use during the initial setup. While this is a good thing, some people don't care to change it.

The problem with not changing the default security protocol used by the router is that it might be using WEP, which isn't secure. Or, the router might be completely open with no encryption or password.

When setting up your network, use WPA3 or, at the minimum, WPA2. Security updates to WPA3 include safer public Wi-Fi, weak password protection, and easier setup.

Using WEP or WPA on the Client Side

When you establish a connection to a security-enabled wireless network for the first time—be it from your laptop, desktop, or smartphone— you're prompted to enter the correct security key or passphrase to gain access to the network.

That password is the WEP or WPA code the router administrator entered when they set up the network security. If you're connecting to a business network, it's most likely provided by the network administrator.

Unlike from the admin's perspective, where the router is set up to use a specific security protocol, you, as the user, can't change anything about the security method from the client side. When you enter the password for the Wi-Fi network, you gain access using whatever protocol has been determined.

For this reason, note the network's security setting after connecting to understand what's safe and not safe to transmit over that network.

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