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What is WEP Encryption? - Process & Types

Instructor: Marcia Wert

Marcia has taught Information technology and Mathematics with a master's degree in IT

In this lesson, we'll explore the history of encryption using WEP and discuss how your Internet access is influenced by what standard of encryption your router uses to access the Internet.

Ever see a charge on a credit card that you did not make? It could be from security problems from your Internet access via your router. A router is a hardware device or piece of software that allows for Internet access and sends packets of data to a destination.

Encryption is the process of changing data so that it is hard to read. Even before the Internet, encryption existed. For example, in the 1950s, secret decoder rings stored in cereal boxes were used to decode a secret message printed on the box. You needed that decoder ring to decipher the message. Internet encryption works in a similar way. When we send a message via the Internet, it is encrypted and the recipient should be the only person that can decode the message. This is the essence of encryption: when used properly, no one else can read what you are sending.

On a router, there are several methods used to encrypt data. WEP Encryption is one of those.

WEP Encryption

Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP, was the first widely popular encryption method used for routers. Without it, anyone could read a packet or message sent on the Internet. It was first introduced in 1997 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or IEEE, a not-for-profit association that develops standards for electronic transmissions.

WEP consisted of 64 bits, and later 128 bits. A bit is either 0 for Off or 1 for On. It also had two settings in the early days: Off was for no security and On was for security. This produced insufficient security because only one to four keys were first shared or pre-shared with the receiver or client. It was easy for hackers, people that want to steal information or cause malicious damage, to decipher or crack the encrypted message, since WEP only produced ten thousand combinations. To put this into perspective, ten thousand combinations can be generated in a nanosecond.

State Cipher

WEP uses the stream cipher RC4, which is encrypted one at a time with the corresponding digit of the next character to give a new digit of the new encrypted data . Since the encryption of each digit is dependent on the order of the text, it is also known as state cipher. The first value of the first digit is called a seed value. Its value determines the decryption of all other encrypted data. Each character represents 4 bits, so the 10 digits of 4 bits add up to 40 bits. To that is added a 24-bit initialization vector, so we have 64 bits all together. The problem with WEP is that if a hacker can break the seed value, then the whole message is easy to translate.

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