WEP is an IEEE standard, introduced in 1997, designed for securing 802.11 networks. With WEP enabled, each data packet transmitted over the wireless connection would be encrypted. Originally, the data packet was combined with a secret 40-bit number key as it passed through an encryption algorithm known as RC4. The packet was scrambled and sent across the airwaves. On the receiving end, the data packet passed through the RC4 backward, and the host received the data as it was intended. WEP originally used a 40-bit number key, but later specified 128-bit encryption, making WEP that much more robust.
WEP was designed to provide security by encrypting data from the sending and receiving devices. In a short period of time, however, it was discovered that WEP encryption was not nearly as secure as hoped. Part of the problem was that when the 802.11 standards were being written, security was not the major concern it is today. As a result, WEP security was easy to crack with freely available hacking tools. From this point, wireless communication was regarded as a potentially insecure transmission media.
Security weaknesses associated with WEP provided administrators with a very valid reason to be concerned with wireless security. The need for increased wireless security was important for wireless networking to reach its potential and to bring a sense of confidence for those with sensitive data to use wireless communications. In response, the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) was created. WPA was designed to improve on the security weaknesses of WEP and to be backward compatible with older devices using the WEP standard. WPA addressed two main security concerns:
Enhanced data encryption WPA uses a Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP), which scrambles encryption keys using a hashing algorithm. Then the keys are issued an integrity check to verify that they have not been modified or tampered with during transit.
Authentication WPA uses the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP). WEP regulates access to a wireless network based on a computer's hardware-specific MAC address, which is relatively simple to be sniffed out and stolen. EAP is built on a more secure public-key encryption system to ensure that only authorized network users can access the network.