Is WEP ever appropriate?

How insecure is Wired Equivalent Privacy?

The short answer is that Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is badly broken and only fit for a few low-security uses. Wireless communications are, for obvious reasons, far more susceptible to eavesdropping and unauthorized access than wired communications, and WEP was intended to provide a cryptographic 'wrapper' around the communications channel to protect it. Unfortunately, both the design and implementation of WEP were badly flawed, and attackers are able to crack open the encryption and listen in on - or modify - the 'real' data without much effort. To make matters worse, these attacks have been turned into 'script-kiddy' tools, so the skill level needed to crack WEP is now close to zero. As the final nail in the coffin, these attacks grow faster and simpler with every increase in bandwidth and CPU speed.

The weaknesses of WEP are obvious in retrospect (poor choice of an encryption algorithm, poor key management, poor key use, poor design and implementation of initialization vectors, and so on), but users and network administrators don't really need to worry about the cryptanalytic nuances. What is important is that they recognize WEP for what it is: a very-weak-but-very-convenient security tool, and use it accordingly.

So how and when should you use WEP? Its weaknesses make it a terrible choice for protecting mission-critical data or restricting access to sensitive networks, but it might be appropriate for home use. Even there, WEP shouldn't be thought of as a barrier to determined hackers. Instead, it's a useful obstacle to casual eavesdropping and to anyone thinking of piggybacking on your wireless connection. Even if you won't stop these people with WEP, they're likely to turn their attention to all of the other more vulnerable wireless networks they can see around you.

It's important to remember that WEP is not your only choice for securing your wireless network; far better alternatives are now available. The definitive solution is the IEEE's 802.11i standard, but the intermediate solution of Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is simpler than 802.11i and much more secure than WEP.Â

A few final recommendations: any wireless encryption solution is a first-hop solution and does nothing to protect your traffic once it leaves the access point. Genuinely sensitive traffic needs end-to-end encryption and should be protected by a virtual private network (VPN) of some sort. It's also important to remember that encryption - no matter how good - only addresses one small part of the wireless threat landscape. A complete wireless security solution should also contain measures such as an endpoint firewall, AP filtering or whitelisting, and controls over the use of ad-hoc networking.

Tim Cranny is Senior Security Architect at Senforce Technologies. He is also an editorial board member of the WVE.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Cranny

Network World
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?