Set up a security key for a wireless network


Personal information and files on your wireless network can sometimes be seen by people who pick up your network signal. This can lead to identity theft and other malicious acts. A network security key or passphrase can help protect your wireless network from this type of unauthorized access.

The Set Up a Network wizard will guide you through setting up a security key.

  • Open Set Up a Network by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type network, click Network and Sharing Center, click Set up a new connection or network, and then click Set up a new network.

Note

  • We don't recommend using Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) as your wireless security method. Wi‑Fi Protected Access (WPA or WPA2) is more secure. If you try WPA or WPA2 and they don't work, we recommend that you upgrade your network adapter to one that works with WPA or WPA2. All of your network devices, computers, routers, and access points must also support WPA or WPA2.

Encryption methods for wireless networks

There are currently three types of wireless network encryption: Wi‑Fi Protected Access (WPA and WPA2), Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), and 802.1x. The first two are described in more detail in the following sections. 802.1x is typically used for enterprise networks and isn't discussed here.

Wi‑Fi Protected Access (WPA and WPA2)

WPA and WPA2 require users to provide a security key to connect. Once the key has been validated, all data sent between the computer or device and the access point is encrypted.

There are two types of WPA authentication: WPA and WPA2. If possible, use WPA2 because it is the most secure. Almost all new wireless adapters support WPA and WPA2, but some older ones don't. In WPA-Personal and WPA2-Personal, each user is given the same passphrase. This is the recommended mode for home networks. WPA-Enterprise and WPA2-Enterprise are designed to be used with an 802.1x authentication server that distributes different keys to each user. This mode is primarily used in work networks.

Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP)

WEP is an older network security method that's still available to support older devices, but it's no longer recommended. When you enable WEP, you set up a network security key. This key encrypts the information that one computer sends to another computer across your network. However, WEP security is relatively easy to crack.

There are two kinds of WEP: open system authentication and shared key authentication. Neither is very secure, but shared key authentication is the least secure of the two. For most wireless computers and wireless access points, the shared key authentication key is the same as the static WEP encryption key—the key that you use to secure your network. A malicious user who captures the messages for a successful shared key authentication can use analysis tools to determine the shared key authentication key, and then determine the static WEP encryption key. After the WEP encryption key has been determined, the malicious user has full access to your network. For this reason, this version of Windows doesn’t support automatically setting up a network using WEP shared key authentication.

If, despite these warnings, you still want to use WEP shared key authentication, you can do so by following these steps:

To manually create a network profile using WEP shared key authentication

  1. Open Network and Sharing Center by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type network, and then click Network and Sharing Center.

  2. Click Set up a new connection or network.

  3. Click Manually connect to a wireless network, and then click Next.

  4. On the Enter information for the wireless network you want to add page, under Security type, select WEP.

  5. Complete the rest of the page, and then click Next.

  6. Click Change connection settings.

  7. Click the Security tab, and then, under Security type, click Shared.

  8. Click OK, and then click Close.

To learn more about the overall process of setting up a network, see Start here to set up a home network in Windows 7.



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