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Wi-Fi & router acronyms in a nutshell

Choose the right options for your home network

SSID, WEP, WPA2, TKIP, CCMP, PSK and more – few other areas of PC expertise are quite as filled with cryptic acronyms as the router configuration. Here's what they all mean and which you should choose.

The Process of setting up a new Wi-Fi network is typically only accompanied by a single piece of advice: Always use the WPA2, or at least WPA encryption, as nothing else is deemed remotely safe anymore by today's standards. And while this is certainly holds true in the age of cyber-attacks, it doesn't really help with the selection of all the other acronyms that are so plentifully represented in the router menu. That's why in this How-To, we'll explain what the most common abbreviations mean and which ones you should be using for your home setup. See also: How to set up a Wi-Fi router and home network

Note: To enter the router setup, try entering 192.168.0.1, 192.168.1.1  or 192.168.178.1 into your browser address bar. If that does nothing, you might need to rummage about in some drawers to find and consult the router manual. Alternatively, searching online how to access the router setup in combination with your router name often yields the desired command as well.

SSID – The designation of your Wi-Fi

SSID is short for „Service Set Identifier“, which is basically just a fancy term for the name of your router. By default, this is often identical with the manufacturer's name (sometimes with the addition of the specific model number), so that a Linksys Router might be displayed with the SSID “linksys” in the network.  

It goes without saying that the SSID should never include any personal or security information, much less use names that attract attention along the lines of “Top secret” and “Sexygirl_89”. Other than that, you can name the SSID anything that suits your preference.

Note: In addition, many routers also offer the option to hide your SSID, thus preventing your Wi-Fi from being seen by your neighbours altogether. It should be mentioned however, that the apparent security provided by this option is fairly limited in practice, as your router merely stops advertising its name to other systems and can not hide its entire network. Therefore, any decent networking software will have little trouble finding Wi-Fi network even if it is hidden from the public.

This might also be of interest: How to use the London tube Wi-Fi

WEP, WPA, WPA2 – Encryption standards put plainly

The oldest form of encryption that is still often found on modern routers is called WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy). As was mentioned in the introduction, you should steer clear from this option as it is fairly outdated and won't protect your network for much more than a minute against specialized tools.

WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) is an advancement of the older WEP standard and the next tier of encryption. It offers many additional security measures with twice the bit key size, thus exponentially improving security. While still useful, it is often rendered irrelevant on more modern routers by its successor.

WPA2 is the newest and more secure common security standard and thus your best choice, if available in the menu. It uses superior algorithms in comparison to WPA and can make your password utterly uncrackable by conventional means (with brute force approaches taking millions of years or exponentially longer depending on the number of digits). Obviously, this doesn't mean your password is completely immune to hacking attempts, as it can still be guessed from the context (birthday, name of dog, fiancé etc.) or cracked by dictionary-based hacking tools. It therefore remains important to choose its form and length wisely.

TKIP, AES, CCMP, WRAP, PSK and WPS -  The finer points

In short, TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) is the name for the general encryption protocol used by WPA. Consequently, if it shows up anywhere in your configuration, you are likely using the WPA encryption, as WPA2 uses the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) protocol in its stead.

When using WPA and WPA2, you might also stumble across the option to use either WRAP (Wireless Robust Authenticated Protocol) or CCMP (Counter Mode with Cipher Block Chaining Message Authentication Code Protocol). These reflect the progression from WPA to WPA2, so that WRAP is generally considered outdated by today's standards. Use CCMP, if you have the option.

Also take a look at: How to get better Wi-Fi speed and range

PSK stands for Pre-Shared Key and simply indicates to use of a password that needs to be known to both sides of the connection (the router and the PC) to interpret each others messages, similarly to a chiffre. This is typically part of the standard configuration of most routers and can be found in the menu as “WPA-PSK” or WPA2-PSK”. The only obvious drawback for this method is that both sides need to share the key before establishing a connection, which shouldn't be an an issue for home networks. If you have somehow lost your routers lengthy password, try lifting the device up and check its bottom side.

Lastly, WPS stands for Wi-Fi Protected Setup and helps you to connect devices such as your PC with the router without having to bother cryptic passwords. The exact method used for WPS typically varies depending on your router and can range from entering a PIN number to the use of a Near Field Communication (NFC). In the best case, your router might even support the convenient PBC (Push-Button Configuration), for which you will only need to press a designated button somewhere on your router to enable password-less connecting for two minutes.

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