What Is WPS and How Does It Work?

All you need to know about wireless protected setup

WPS stands for Wi-Fi Protected Setup.

What Does WPS Mean?

WPS is a method of setting up a secure Wi-Fi network at home with the minimum of effort. It typically involves pressing down the WPS button on your router to activate it.

The WPS button on many routers was created by the Wi-Fi Alliance in 2006. Its aim was to help home users who didn't know much about network security, set up their home wireless networks safely and securely. While many users might have wondered 'what does the WPS button do?', it was a far simpler process for set up than having to dive into complicated network settings elsewhere. 

How Does WPS Work?

In the past, users had to know the network name they wanted to connect to (also known as an SSID) as well as the password (sometimes referred to as a WPA-PSK key). This took time and often required entering quite a long string of information. 

A router showing off its fancy pairing button

Webaroo / Unsplash

Nowadays, most routers include a WPS button on the device so you simply press the button to begin pairing. It works a lot like pairing a Bluetooth device, saving you the hassle of having to enter complex settings. 

Some older models of routers may use a PIN instead with users having to enter a PIN number on devices to pair them up. Newer devices may also include near field communication methods so you simply hold your smartphone (for instance) next to a router to quickly pair the devices together.

What Are the Benefits of WPS?

There are a number of benefits to WPS providing you know what is the WPS button and how it works. 

  • It's straightforward. Many routers and networks require you to enter long passphrases to join existing networks. Via WPS, you can simply press a button and join within seconds. It's much more straightforward than having to type long passwords in.
  • It's novice-friendly. Setting up a network should be simple nowadays and WPS has made it even simpler, so you don't need to have expert knowledge on how to get started. 
  • It's quick. Trying to add multiple devices to your network? Tap the WPS button and you're good to go for everything from your PC to your smartphone or smart TV.

What Are the Disadvantages to WPS?

WPS is a very useful way of setting up a home network fast, but it's not perfect. Here's what you need to know about the disadvantages.

  • It's not 100% secure. In the past, there have been brute-force attacks that have led WPS to be open to attack. It's unlikely you'll be a victim, but it's why many people disable WPS entirely. 
  • Anyone can activate it. If someone has physical access to your router, they can easily activate WPS right down to the PIN often being displayed on the top of the router. It might only be activated for a few minutes but that can make all the difference. You need to have the device stored somewhere securely.
  • It doesn't work with WEP security protocol. WEP is the oldest security protocol out there. It's been superseded by WPA2 but some users with old network hardware might still need to use WEP. It doesn't play nicely with WPS so don't expect to be able to use the WPS button. 

Should I Use WPS?

If you're worried about security then the absolute best solution is to buy a router that doesn't have WPS support. Even with it disabled, certain devices still keep it activated without your knowledge. 

However, for most users, WPS is very useful. It saves the time and hassle involved in entering long passwords to connect to a network, and it's ideal for novices that aren't very experienced with home network setups. 

Whatever you decide to do, make sure to disable WPS once you've finished setting everything up. That way, things are mostly as safe as they can be. The vast majority of users will never have a problem using WPS or face any hacking risks on their home networks.