What Is a WEP Key?

WEP stands for Wired Equivalent Privacy, a standard for Wi-Fi wireless network security. But what exactly are WEP keys?
Answer: A WEP key is a security code system for Wi-Fi networks. WEP keys allow a group of devices on a local network (such as a home network) to exchange encoded messages with each other while hiding the contents of the messages from easy viewing by outsiders.
WEP keys are chosen by a network administrator. When WEP security is enabled on a network, matching WEP keys must be set on Wi-Fi routers and each device connecting over Wi-Fi, for them all to communicate with each other.
WEP keys are a sequence of hexadecimal digits. These digits include the numbers 0-9 and the letters A-F. Some examples of WEP keys are:
  • 1A648C9FE2
  • 99D767BAC38EA23B0C0176D152
The length of a WEP key depends on the type of WEP security (called "encryption") utilized:
  • 40- or 64-bit WEP: 10 digit key
  • 104- or 128-bit WEP: 26 digit key
  • 256-bit WEP: 58 digit key
To assist with the process of creating correct WEP keys, some brands of wireless network equipment automatically generates WEP keys from ordinary text called a passphrase. Some Web sites also offer automatic WEP key generators that generate random key values designed to be harder for outsiders to guess. WEP technology is obsolete and no longer recommended for use on wireless networks. Newer wireless key systems such as WPA2 should be used instead.