Making the Best of WEP

By M. David Stone  |  Posted 2004-01-20 Print this article Print

Wired Equivalent Privacy is a fairly weak security standard, but if you're not using anything else, it's a good start.

I keep hearing that WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) is too weak a security scheme for wireless networks, but Im not prepared to throw out my old access point and card to buy new ones with better security. Recognizing that WEP is imperfect, how can I best take advantage of whatever security WEP provides my home network?

Larry Mayer

Using WEP instead of more sophisticated security schemes like WPA (Wireless Protected Access) is a little like putting a padlock on a door. It wont stop someone who is determined to break in, but it will discourage anyone who isnt willing to make an effort. Heres a check list of things that will make breaking though WEP harder. Not all of the following features are available on all 802.11b hardware, but you should take as many of these steps as your hardware allows.

  • Check the manufacturers Web site for the latest firmware, which may have additional security features.
  • Make sure your access point is set to require WEP, not just use it as an option.
  • Set WEP for the highest-level encryption that you can. Alas, 128-bit encryption may not work among products from different manufacturers (the IEEE standard is 64 bits), but its worth a try. In an informal test, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the 128-bit encryption in a Linksys WAP11 access point works with the 128-bit encryption in a D-Link PC Card.
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    M. David Stone is an award-winning freelance writer and computer industry consultant with special areas of expertise in imaging technologies (including printers, monitors, large-screen displays, projectors, scanners, and digital cameras), storage (both magnetic and optical), and word processing. His 25 years of experience in writing about science and technology includes a nearly 20-year concentration on PC hardware and software. He also has a proven track record of making technical issues easy for non-technical readers to understand, while holding the interest of more knowledgeable readers. Writing credits include eight computer-related books, major contributions to four others, and more than 2,000 articles in national and worldwide computer and general interest publications. His two most recent books are The Underground Guide to Color Printers (Addison-Wesley, 1996) and Troubleshooting Your PC, (Microsoft Press, 2000, with co-author Alfred Poor).

    Much of David's current writing is for PC Magazine, where he has been a frequent contributor since 1983 and a contributing editor since 1987. His work includes feature articles, special projects, reviews, and both hardware and software solutions for PC Magazine's Solutions columns. He also contributes to other magazines, including Wired. As Computers Editor at Science Digest from 1984 until the magazine stopped publication, he wrote both a monthly column and additional articles. His newspaper column on computers appeared in the Newark Star Ledger from 1995 through 1997.

    Non-computer-related work includes the Project Data Book for NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (written for GE's Astro-Space Division), and magazine articles and AV productions on subjects ranging from cosmology to ape language experiments. David also develops and writes testing scripts for leading computer magazines, including PC Magazine's PC Labs. His scripts have covered a wide range of subjects, including computers, scanners, printers, modems, word processors, fax modems, and communications software. He lives just outside of New York City, and considers himself a New Yorker at heart.


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