The official standard for wireless computer networks was first created in 1997, according to microelectronics company Intel. As the use of wireless computer networks increased, security became a growing concern. In order to protect data that is transferred over wireless networks, several different security types are available. The most common are WPA, WEP and 802.1X.
"WPA," or "Wi-Fi Protected Access," is a type of wireless network security that relies on encryption. This means that all digital data sent over a wireless network is coded in a way that is extremely difficult to decipher. In addition to encrypting data, WPA security provides user authentication. Authentication means that only permitted computer users are allowed access to the network.
Two versions of WPA, known as WPA and WPA2, are available. The first version is commonly used in corporate or organization situations where many different users must connect to a single network. It is designed to use a pre-shared security key, which is the same for every user. The second version, WPA2, is compatible with fewer networks, but is more secure. WPA2 is typically used whenever possible, with WPA as a backup option for older systems.
"WEP," which is short for "Wired Equivalent Privacy," was introduced earlier than WPA and was one of the first wireless security protocols available. While outdated, WEP is still available on many older network devices. When WEP is used, a security password is created and wireless data is encrypted. Unfortunately, because this encryption is not very sophisticated, it can be bypassed by somebody intent on stealing data.
Because of this potential security vulnerability, using WEP is usually not recommended. Wireless devices such as routers and access points that rely on WEP should be upgraded to the more secure WPA security type if possible. However, if there is no alternative, WEP security is still preferable to a completely unsecure wireless network.
The 802.1X wireless security type is used as an additional layer of security that can be used with both WEP and WPA networks. Under this security, a special server is used to validate network users. Essentially, this server contains a list of users who are authorized on the network. Users with the proper permission are allowed to connect, while unauthorized outside users are blocked.
Using the 802.1X security type in conjunction with an additional encryption type, such as WPA, is usually very secure. In this setup, not only is wireless data encoded, but only pre-screened users are allowed to share data. This high level of wireless network security is common in business or government settings where sensitive data is present.
- Photo Credit wireless image by Szymon Apanowicz from Fotolia.com
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