Protect Your Wi-Fi: What Are WEP, WPA, WPA2, and WPA3?

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Aditya Rayaprolu
Written by
Aditya Rayaprolu

Updated · Nov 16, 2023

Aditya Rayaprolu
Technology Architect | McKinsey & Company | Joined February 2023 | LinkedIn
Aditya Rayaprolu

Aditya is an Azure DevOps and Infrastructure Virtualization Architect with experience in automation,... | See full bio

Florence Desiata
Edited by
Florence Desiata


Florence Desiata
Joined June 2023 | LinkedIn
Florence Desiata

Florence is a dedicated wordsmith on a mission to make technology-related topics easy-to-understand.... | See full bio

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With over 2,244 cyberattacks happening daily, security is more crucial than ever. Since most users go online with WiFi, wireless or WiFi security becomes necessary. 

Wireless security protects WiFi networks against data breaches, unauthorized access, malware, and other online threats. Typically, one out of the four protocols safeguards WiFi user data.

These four wireless network security protocols are: WEP, WPA, WPA2, and WPA3. Keep reading to understand how each protocol works and know which is the best!

🔑 Key Takeaways

  • WEP, WPA, WPA2, and WPA3 are different security protocols designed to safeguard networks. 
  • WiFi protocols rely on encryption to protect data and authentication to permit authorized access.
  • WPA3 is the ultimate security protocol, featuring personalized encryption and strong authentication.
  • Be mindful of compatibility issues, as WPA3 may not function with older devices. WPA2 is a more pragmatic choice for broader device support.
  • When selecting a wireless security protocol, prioritize security and weigh device compatibility.

WEP, WPA, WPA2, and WPA3: What Are They?

WEP, WPA, WPA2, and WPA3 are wireless security protocols that enforce safety measures like encryption and authentication to your network.

Wireless security protocols use encryption to make all the data going in and out of the WiFi network incomprehensible unless the user has the keys. WiFi security protocols also use authentication to ensure that only verified users can join the network.

The first protocol used by wireless networks was WEP. WiFi protocols had to improve constantly to combat evolving security threats. Continuous development of the protocols led to the existence of WPA, WPA2, and WPA3. 

WiFi Security Protocols

Continue reading to learn about each protocol!

What is WEP and How Does It Work? 

WEP, or Wired Equivalent Privacy, was the first wireless security protocol. It started in 1997 to secure data and activities happening in wireless networks.

The WEP protocol employed 64 to 128-bit encryption to protect networks from cyberattacks. This protocol used static keys. Every authorized device on the network had the same key, which made it easy for users to exchange data while remaining hidden from potential attackers.

As technology developed, computing power increased. Attackers were able to decipher WEP, and it is no longer a recommended protocol against modern online threats. 

To put all these simply, check out the video below: 

Understanding WPA and How It Works

WiFi Protected Access (WPA) is an improved wireless security protocol released in 2003, which offered more complex encryption and authentication than WEP. 

The WPA Protocol operated 128-bit encryption keys with message integrity checking. WPA also addressed WEP’s security issues by using Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) instead of static keys. TKIP generates a unique key for every data exchange in the network, making key duplication impossible.

💡Did You Know?

Apple shows a weak security warning if your device is connected to a WiFi network that uses an old or deprecated security protocol. 

Privacy Warning on iPhones

The security warning appears if your WiFi network uses WEP, WPA, or mixed WPA/WPA2. It is best to switch to WPA2 or WPA3-supported networks to bypass the privacy notice and for better online security. 


Despite the improved security features, attackers still found a way around WPA. Hence, a second version of WPA called “WPA2” was launched in 2004.

The WPA2 version has enhanced encryption through Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and improved user authentication. WPA2’s Pre-Shared Key (PSK) feature uses passcodes shared only between the device and the access point. With these added attributes, WPA2 became the most used protocol for wireless network security. 

However, in 2016, two Belgian researchers found a weakness in WPA2. This flaw is known as the Key Reinstallation Attack (KRACK), and it became the reason for WPA3’s birth.

Here’s a basic explanation of what KRACK vulnerability is: 


WPA3 started in 2018 to address KRACK. One of WPA3’s best qualities is providing individualized and unique data encryption. It gives a unique key for every data transmitted in the network. 

Any attacker who intercepts traffic in WPA3 will have to decode every transmission, which is more challenging since the key is 192-bit for personal and 256-bit for enterprise.

WPA3 also uses SAE or Simultaneous Authentication of Equals. SAE protocol uses complex algorithms and a secure key for every data exchange.

The only downside for WPA3 is its compatibility. Since it is fairly new, most devices do not support the said protocol. However, newer phone models are likely to be compatible with WPA3.

WEP vs. WPA: Spot The Differences

WEP and WPA versions all have differences—as one started as a better version of the other. Here's a table showing the critical differences between the WiFi protocols:











Encryption Method


RC4 with TKIP


GCM with SAE

Key Size

64-bit and 128-bit


128-bit and 265-bit

192-bit and 265-bit

Data Integrity


Message Integrity Code


Secure Hash Algorithm

Encryption Key




Dynamic and Unique

Authentication Method

WPE-Open and WPE-Shared

Pre-Shared Key with EAP

Pre-Shared Key with EAP

SAE with EAP

To sum it all up, WEP is the first wireless network security protocol. It is an outdated version you should avoid since it's vulnerable to breaches.

WPA better replaces WEP with its more robust encryption plus TKIP. However, it is still susceptible to attacks.

WPA2 is the most used protocol since most devices today are compatible with it. Its AES-256 encryption is also guaranteed to be safe against most online threats. 

⚠️ Warning

Most public networks use WPA2, but that does not make them safe. Avoid connecting to public WiFi hotspots as they come with security risks like malware.  

Due to the discovery of KRACK vulnerability, WPA3 appeared. It offers better protection, but this protocol is not highly recommended because of its limited compatibility.

Choosing a Wireless Network Security Protocol

With many options to choose from, consider the following factors when picking a particular wireless security protocol for your network:


Since security is the primary purpose of a wireless network security protocol, go for the one with the best. WPA3 uses GCM with SAE encryption and SAE with EAP authentication, making it the most secure of the four protocols. 


You should also consider compatibility a vital aspect when choosing a protocol for your network. While WPA3 is the best security option, it has compatibility issues with many devices. 1, despite its KRACK vulnerability, the WPA2 protocol still offers complex encryption and authentication while being compatible with most devices. 


WEP, WPA, WPA2, and WPA3 are WiFi security protocols that help users achieve privacy and security while browsing.

Each of the WiFi protocols offers different levels of encryption and authentication. WPA3 is the best and latest, while WEP is the oldest and most outdated. WPA and WPA2 are the most compatible protocols with most devices.


How do you know if your Wi-Fi is WPA or WPA2?

Check the router's details through your device to tell if your WiFi is WPA or WPA2. You must access your router's settings. From there, you'll see your WiFi details, including the security protocol it implements.

Can old devices use WPA3?

Old devices, especially the ones released before 2018, can't use WPA3. If your device was released on or before 2018, it likely only supports WPA2.

How do you set up a WEP connection?

You must access your router's settings to set up a WEP connection. Then, click on Wireless > Wireless Settings > Security > Security Type. Then, choose WEP from the options.


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