Routers using WPS are intrinsically unsafe

Fred Langa

Simple hacker tools can easily sniff out Wi-Fi passwords from routers that have Wi-Fi Protected Setup enabled — quite possibly yours included.

Here’s how to protect your network — and even hack your own router to see whether it’s vulnerable.

Launched in 2007, Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) is a technology standard that’s intended to make setting up a Wi-Fi network less of a hassle. According to an article on the Wi-Fi Alliance (a consortium of Wi-Fi vendors) site,

“Wi-Fi Protected Setup enables typical users who possess little understanding of traditional Wi-Fi configuration and security settings to automatically configure new wireless networks, add new devices, and enable security. More than 200 products have been Wi-Fi CERTIFIED for Wi-Fi Protected Setup since the program was launched in January 2007.”

Without a doubt, WPS does make it very easy to add wireless devices to a network. Instead of a laborious, manual setup, WPS offers four simple methods for connecting wireless devices to WPS-enabled routers.

  • 1. The PIN (Personal Identification Number) method is supported by Wi-Fi CERTIFIED routers. A short (just six to eight digits) PIN is either printed on a sticker somewhere on the router or is displayed in the router’s configuration software. The PIN serves as an alternate, low-security password separate from the router’s normal passphrase, which can be letters and numbers and up to 63 characters long.

    To connect a laptop, phone, tablet, or other wireless device to a WPS-enabled system, simply enter the short PIN when prompted on the wireless device. (For example, press the network Connect button in Windows 7; your notebook will communicate with the router, and a PIN entry box should appear.) The router’s software then recognizes the new device and allows it to connect.

  • 2. The pushbutton method requires pushing a physical button or clicking an on-screen graphical button on both the router and the device (such as a newer, wireless-enabled printer) that’s being connected to the network. Once both buttons are pushed, the devices negotiate and establish the connection.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2012-12-13:

Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.