What is Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS)?
Anyone who has ever had to configure a router on their own has probably come across the term WPS while doing it. You may also have noticed a button marked WPS near the Ethernet ports. While many of us tend to ignore it as just another feature we will never use, there’s reason to understand it. What is WPS or Wi-Fi Protected Setup? How does it work? Which operating systems and devices support it? This blog explores all these questions and more.
What Does WPS Stand For?
WPS is an acronym for Wi-Fi Protected Setup. It is a security standard designed to make connecting wireless devices to your router quicker and easier. Note that it will not work if you are using an outdated WEP security protocol, which is too vulnerable to being hacked. WPS only works if you have configured a password for your wireless network encrypted by WPA Personal or WPA 2 Personal protocols.
What Is It For?
A common home Wi-Fi setup does not allow a wireless device to connect to your network unless it knows both the network name and password. In techie-speak, these are the SSID and WPA-PSK key respectively. So, for example, if you want to connect your smartphone to your wireless network, you will need to choose the right network (SSID) and enter the correct password (WPA-PSK) for it.
Unless you perform these steps, you won’t be able to connect to the wireless network. WPS allows you to bypass messing with complex network names and passwords. It offers a quicker and easier way to connect your device to the network.
How Does It Work?
Wi-Fi Protected Setup simplifies the process of connecting wireless devices to a router. You can do this in three different ways. These are listed below:
- Locate and press the WPS button on your router.
- Select the network on your device to connect without entering the password.
- Connect devices like wireless printers by pushing the WPS button on them as well as the router.
- Use the 8-digit PIN generated by your WPS enabled router to connect to the network.
The first two methods make it fairly quick and easy to connect any wireless device to a WPS enabled router, like one of the new Wi-Fi 6 models.
Where Is the WPS Button on My Router?
Wireless routers are by far the most popular devices that support WPS, mainly because they’re the ones managing wireless connections through the security standard. Most modern routers like the Wi-Fi 6E versions have WPS support. Certain routers have WPS enabled by default, while others require you to enable it manually. You can do this with the WPS button or through the admin interface of your router’s firmware. Certain routers like ASUS have a clearly labeled WPS button on the back. On certain TP-LINK models, the WPS button is integrated with the Wi-Fi router’s power button. Many Linksys routers have a button without a label but with a WPS symbol. But in almost all cases, the button will be at the back of your router near the Ethernet ports.
What Other Devices Support WPS?
There is a lot of network equipment that uses the WPS network security standard. Modern wireless printers in use in the office or home are a good example. Range extenders that are used to fix weak Wi-Fi signals in different parts of the home also support WPS connections. Laptops, smartphones, and tablets generally support WPS depending on their operating system.
Operating Systems That Support or Don’t Support WPS
Very few operating systems offer native support for WPS mainly because public adoption is low. However, two of the most popular operating systems, Android and Windows both support WPS network security standards. Windows has offered native WPS support since 2007 in the Windows Vista days. Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10 all offer native WPS support.
Android first offered native support for WPS in Android Version 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich in 2011. However, Apple users will be disappointed to learn Apple OS X and iOS devices do not support WPS. WPS support does not affect internet speeds, so don’t expect to have a device with it to make your Wi-Fi faster.
The Disadvantage of Using WPS
The WPS standard makes using a PIN mandatory on your router. Regardless of you using WPS, most routers will automatically generate the WPS PIN. However, the eight-digit PIN is very vulnerable to brute force attacks. The router stores this PIN in 2 blocks of 4 digits, and checks each block separately. A brute force attack could the first block and then the second in succession, taking up to 4 to 10 hours to do so.
But what does it mean if a hacker can brute force your WPS PIN? Well, they can access your network and locate the security key. Even if the security key is complex and protected by layered security like encryption, a determined hacker can get to it and gain complete control over your home or office wireless network.
Wi-Fi Alliance, a non-profit organization offering Wi-Fi certifications for products and promoting Wi-Fi tech, invented WPS in 2006. The idea was to help people who found it difficult to enter long passwords or manage complex security settings when connecting new devices to their routers. Wi-Fi Alliance has over 600 members, including Intel, Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft.
Wi-Fi protected setup is not exactly the safest security technology out there. While it can certainly make life easier for a lot of people, it is vulnerable to hacking and brute force attacks. In addition, certain popular devices like Apple phones, tablets, and laptops do not offer WPS support. If you’ve ever used WPS security to add devices to your network, let us know how your experience went.
What happens when I press the WPS button on my router?
Your router starts looking for devices to connect to. Select the network from your device to connect automatically.
Is Wi-Fi Protected Setup safe?
WPS is vulnerable to brute force attacks based on the nature of the 8-digit PIN.
Should I disable Wi-Fi Protected Setup?
Yes, disable WPS access on your wireless network to prevent unauthorized access.
Is WPS a security risk?
Yes, it can be if a hacker can brute-force the WPS PIN and gain control of the network.
How do I know if my router is WPS enabled?
If your router has a WPS button, it is WPS enabled, like most modern routers.
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