Wireless Security: WPA Step by Step

A step-by-step guide on using WiFi Protected Access to secure Wi-Fi networks.


Even if youve enabled WEP (Wired Equivalency Protocol) encryption on wireless networks, odds are that theyre still not secure. WEPs flaws are well documented. Hackers can break WEP easily. What you need is WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), a far stronger protocol that fixes the weaknesses in WEP.

Here well take you through the process of upgrading your networking equipment and enabling WPA security for your home WLAN. To upgrade your wireless security to WPA, you must have three critical components:

  • an access point (AP) or wireless router that has WPA support;
  • a wireless network card that has WPA drivers available;
  • a client (called a supplicant) that supports WPA and your operating system.

WPA replaces WEP in small-office or home routers, so moving to WPA is an all-or-nothing proposition. For you to consider an upgrade, every wireless device on your network must have WPA capabilities. This includes any wireless bridges you might use for your Microsoft Xbox (or other gaming device), digital camera, home audio gateway, and print server.

If you havent purchased wireless hardware already, buying WPA-capable networking equipment is easy. The Wi-Fi Alliance began certifying products for WPA interoperability in April. In addition, all new products submitted for certification after August 2003 must have WPA capability. Any product that passes Wi-Fi WPA compatibility testing will have the Wi-Fi Protected Access box checked on its package label (Figure 1).

You can also visit the Wi-Fi Alliances Web site and search for WPA-certified products (www.wi-fi.org/OpenSection/certified_products.asp?TID=2).


If you already own wireless networking hardware, upgrading may not be possible. You must check the Web sites of your hardware makers for WPA upgrades. WPA is designed so that legacy wireless hardware can be upgraded via drivers, but with the product cycles of wireless gear being about six months, most manufacturers do not provide WPA upgrades for legacy products. If you find WPA support, it will probably be for relatively new products. If you dont find driver upgrades for your hardware, youll either have to buy new equipment or live with WEP.

For this article, we selected the Linksys WRT54G broadband router and the Linksys WPC54G client card. Both products are widely available and have online driver and firmware upgrades for WPA.

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