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Standards: Wi-Fi Security Options

Here's a quick rundown of today's three Wi-Fi security standards. Remember that a network's security is only as good as the best standard that every piece of connected equipment supports. Right now, the most widely supported standard is WEP.

WEP: (Wired Equivalent Privacy)

Although it's notoriously easy to break, this original security standard for Wi-Fi remains the one most commonly used. That's because WEP is available in every Wi-Fi device on the planet (since it was part of the original 802.11b spec), including such increasingly popular components for wireless networking as streaming media players. Until these products start supporting stronger standards, WEP will be the only choice for many home users--and it's certainly better than nothing.

WPA: (Wi-Fi Protected Access)

PC World recommends that, where possible, you use WPA-PSK (WPA in Pre-Shared Key mode--as opposed to enterprise mode, which requires an authenticating server). WPA-PSK uses the same RC4 encryption cipher as WEP, but in a different and more hacker-resistant way: Its TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) technology relies on mathematical scrambling formulas to check whether a key has been tampered with. All of the products tested for this review support WPA-PSK.

WPA2: (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2)

The new 802.11i standard, also known as WPA2, provides the strongest security. It abandons RC4 encryption in favor of the harder-to-crack AES encryption. It's not easy to upgrade WPA hardware to WPA2, which generally requires a dedicated chip. WPA2 significantly slows down a network and is overkill for most home users and for many small businesses. Of the products PC World tested, only the U.S. Robotics Wireless MaxG router supports WPA2 (however, we tested it with WPA for consistency).

Yardena Arar is a senior editor and Narasu Rebbapragada is an associate editor for PC World.
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At a Glance
  • Belkin F5D8230-4 Wireless Pre-N Broadband Router

  • D-Link Super G MIMO Wireless Router

  • Linksys by Cisco Wireless-G Broadband Router with SRX - WRT54GX

  • Netgear Pre-N Wireless Router

  • Netgear WPN824 RangeMax Wireless Router

  • US Robotics Wireless MAXg Router with integrated USB Print Server

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