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WEP (Wireless Encryption Protocol or Wired Equivalent Privacy)

I have taken a class on Wireless LAN's and was told that WEP stood for "Wired Equivalent Privacy." Most of the articles I see refer to WEP as Wireless Encryption Protocol. Which is correct?

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WEP stands for "Wired Equivalent Privacy" - specified by the IEEE 802.11:1999 standard. It is a cryptographic privacy algorithm, based on the RC4 encryption engine, used to provide confidentiality for 802.11 wireless data. Some journalists incorrectly expand the acronym as you've seen because WEP *is* a protocol used to provide wireless encryption. However, the correct expansion "Wired Equivalent Privacy" tells you something more about WEP - it was intended to provide roughly the same level of confidentiality for wireless data that is present in a wired (Ethernet) LAN that is NOT protected by encryption.

In an Ethernet LAN, physical access to an active RJ-45 walljack or hub/switch port lets you see all traffic on the LAN. Similarly, in an 802.11 wireless LAN, possession of the shared key used by WEP lets you see all traffic on the WLAN. Neither medium prevents other stations on the same LAN from seeing the traffic your station sends and receives. WEP uses encryption as a "replacement" for the physical access control inherent in wired LANs, since wireless LAN traffic can be received by any station in proximity to the transmitter. Recent augmentations to WEP, like the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) defined by IEEE 802.11i, do a better job of accomplishing this objective than the original 802.11:1999 WEP standard did.

This was first published in January 2003

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