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TekSpek Networking
Wi-Fi Security

Wi-Fi Security

Date issued:
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Wired Equivalent Privacy is a relatively weak form of protection, but its better than nothing. WiFi uses radio waves, so theoretically anyone can snoop in on data being transmitted using WiFi. WEP encrypts the data being transmitted. To use WEP, you must generate a key. There are generators of WEP keys, or you can create one based on your own pass phrase. The generated key must be input into the client machines to allow them to communicate with the access point.
To confuse matters further, there are different strengths of WEP encryption. The weakest type is 64-bit, or 40-bit after you take away the 24-bit initialisation vector (something we won't get into here.) Then there's the stronger 128-bit (or 104-bit) form of WEP. You need both client hardware and an access point that supports WEP to use it, and then you need to know what the strongest form of encryption that you can use is.

Unfortunately, a hacker can 'sniff' encrypted packets and once they've sniffed enough, with the right software, crack the encryption. WEP will put off casual snoopers, but only slow down somebody who really wants into your network.

WiFi Protected Access is the successor to WEP and is intended to be a much stronger WiFi encryption method. There are two versions of WPA and those versions can be broken down into personal and enterprise usage also. We will focus on the personal varieties of WPA.

With WPA-Personal, you define a pass phrase which must then be shared with anyone wanting to gain access to the Wi-Fi network. The longer you make the pass phrase, the better.

WPA is harder to crack than WEP, so if your access point and other hardware supports it, I'd encourage you to use it. If your hardware doesn't support it, check for a firmware update that might add it as a new feature.

WPA2 also exists, which is fully compliant with the 802.11i specification – a wireless spec geared towards security. Support for it remains varied. For example, while my firmware updated access point claimed support for WPA2, I was unable to get my Centrino laptop to work with it, even with the latest drivers and patches. Another option you might see when setting up WPA is the encryption type to use. Chances are if there's an choice, it'll be between TKIP and AES. AES seems to be considered preferable and also results in less of a performance hit in network throughput. However, I have also experienced difficulty with it when using certain combinations of WiFi equipment.

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