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Connecting to Wireless Networks Using WEP Encryption Keys

written by: Chad Anderson•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 3/2/2011

WEP encryption is still the most popular encryption used on wireless access points. This makes knowing how to connect to a WEP encrypted network a fundamental computing skill. Find out how to get yourself connected using every major operating system.

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    How WEP Works

    Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) was the original security standard used for wireless access points (APs or WAPs). The system works by using a pre-shared key to authnticate with the access point. The process is a four-step one where the client sends a request to the AP, the AP sends a challenge back, the client responds with the challenge being encrypted by the pre-shared WEP key, then the AP allows a connection if the encryption checks out.

    Although this system seems secure, many security holes were found that allowed attackers to capture the authentication handshake. By using a number of methods, attackers could force the network to repeat handshakes for capture and in under three minutes crack the WEP key. Since the system is considered fundamentally insecure, most administrators choose not to use WEP on secure networks. However, many public hotspots are secured with WEP to deter the average user from accessing them without first asking for the key. This allows owners to monitor who is using their network without having to install any wireless surveillance software and allows them to restrict access to the average user. WEP is still widely used for this purpose.

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    Microsoft Windows 7

    As the Windows operating system has progressed, everything has become increasingly user friendly. Connecting to an AP using WEP encryption is no exception. Microsoft Windows will automatically detect a network's encryption type and simply ask you to enter the key. Complex configuration is a thing of the past.

    Click the wireless icon in your desktop's notification area (lower-right).

    Click a network in the list to select, then click the "Connect" link.

    Enter the pre-shared WEP key for the network, then click the "Connect" button.

    Wait until a pop-up appears above the desktop's notification area saying you've successfully connected to the network.

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    Apple Mac OS X Snow Leopard

    Apple, like Microsoft, have done a lot of work to create a seamless environment for connecting users to the Internet. Wireless access points are automatically polled for their encryption type so a user only has to enter the pre-shared key to connect with a WEP encrypted network.

    Click the AirPort wireless icon in the upper-right corner of the screen.

    Click a network in the list to select.

    Enter the pre-shared WEP key for the network, then click the "Connect" button.

    Wait until the AirPort wireless icon provides a pop-up confirming a successful connection.

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    GNU/Linux

    Connecting to a Wireless Network Using wicd-curses In the past, Linux was an operating system for the hardcore geek, able to do manual configuration and work in a text-only interface. However, over the past few years, distributions like Linux Mint and Ubuntu have helped to bring a fully functional desktop environment to non-technical users. This means that connecting to a WEP encrypted wireless hotspot isn't much of a chore.

    Click the wireless icon on your desktop. In Gnome Desktop Environment (Ubuntu standard install) this will be in the upper-right while in KDE (Mepis, Mint or Kubuntu standard install) the lower-right side of the screen.

    Click a network in the list to select.

    Enter the pre-shared WEP key for the network, then click the "Connect" button.

    Wait until the icon turns green or a pop-up appears confirming a successful connection.