What is WEP?
Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP) is a security protocol for wireless networks. It was the industry standard for encryption about 10 years ago, but it has been superseded by more secure protocols, such as WPA and WPA2. Routers with WEP as the only available security protocol are no longer made, though many new ones can be dropped down to WEP if there's a reason WPA can't be used, such as an older device on the network.
How WEP handles encryption
Every security protocol encrypts data through the use of bit integers. These integers indicate the key size used in cryptography, which means a 128-bit security encryption has 128 characters for each bit of data. Those characters are broken up into 13 sets of hexadecimal digits, or rather combinations of 0 through 9 and A through F. For example, WEP would translate the text “Hello” to “7c5a685c275a2b3e666c2d5a78,” a string of letters and numbers that would make no sense to anyone but the network itself.
In other words, if you were to send a document over a wireless network, it would break down every individual part of the document and encrypt it with a 128-bit value. Your network has the decryption standards in place to interpret data, but if someone were to steal it they would have to decrypt each stored bit.
Years ago, 128-bit security was considered industry standard. Now the standard has progressed to 256-and even 512-bit security, which makes WEP easier to crack. Computer security professionals do not recommend using WEP.
Phasing out WEP
While WEP was quite effective for its time, more efficient protocols exist now. Data Encryption Standard (DES) and Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2, a replacement to the original WPA protocol) are modern replacements for WEP, though they don’t replace it entirely. Of these new standards, WPA is the most popularly used security protocol as it offers 256-bit encryption in comparison to WEP’s 64-bit or 128-bit encryption.
When setting up a wireless network via the router, users are given the choice between the types of security protocols to use. It is at this point of setup that a user could change from WEP to WPA or even WPA2 for added protection.