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Wireless transmissions are inherently unsafe, as they allow wireless hackers ( wardrivers ) to access your data from a nearby parking lot. As most readers also know, the IEEE 802.11 standard includes basic protection, known as the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol. This protocol defines a set of instructions and rules by which wireless data can be transmitted over airwaves with added security.
The WEP protocol standardizes the production of hardware and software that use the IEEE 802.11 protocol. To secure data, WEP uses the RC4 algorithm to encrypt the packets of information as they are sent out from the access point or wireless network card. RC4 is a secure algorithm and should remain so for several years to come. However, in the case of WEP, it is the specific wireless implementation of the RC4 algorithm, not the algorithm itself, that is at fault.
The following section will show in detail how WEP is cracked. On a busy corporate network, a wardriver can capture enough data to break your WEP encryption in about two to six hours. Breaking a home user 's encryption might take longer (up to two to four weeks), since the flux of data is often much lower. Nevertheless, we recommend that you use WEP when possible, not just as a minor security barrier , but also because it serves as a gentle warning (akin to a login banner disclaimer on a network) that your network is private, rather than shared with the entire community. Also, some products (such as Windows XP) automatically associate with the strongest wireless signal by default. Using WEP prevents your neighbors from inadvertently sucking up your bandwidth, or from unknowingly browsing the Web using your home IP address!
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