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It's easy to tell what kind of encryption is being used on available networks. Changing it, however, requires access to the wireless router.

How can I tell what kind of encryption I have on my WiFi? (wep, wpa, wpa2) How can I change this to a more secure type if necessary?

Considering the importance of having the right security, it's actually somewhat surprising that this isn't more visible when you're using a wireless connection. Nonetheless it's fairly easy to find.

I'll show you how, as well as what you want and where you'd need to change it.

Windows XP

In most cases, in Windows XP when your wireless network adapter is enabled there's an icon in the Windows Task Bar notification area that, if you right click on, gives you the option to View Available Wireless Networks:

Network popup showing View Available Wireless Networks

Click on that and you'll get a fairly familiar list:

Windows XP Wireless Network Chooser

As you can see, it shows not only the access point name but the type of encryption, if any, being used as well. (If you're already connected to one of the networks the information is similar.)

Windows 7

In Windows 7 things have changed just a little. Click on the wireless network icon and you'll get a popup menu of several different possible actions, including a list of the available wireless networks:

Windows 7 Wireless Network Menu

Right click on one of the available networks, and click properties to get this:

Windows 7 wireless network properties

Here I've chosen the wireless network I'm already connected to, and as you can see it's using WPA2 security.

Changing Wireless Encryption

The biggest misunderstanding is where to make this change. It's not on your computer.

The type of encryption being used is determined by the wireless access point (perhaps part of a router) that is providing the wireless connection. You change that by configuring the access point.

Unfortunately, exactly how you do this will vary from router to router, and even device to device. Typically, there's a web-based interface that you use with a special IP address and password to get to the access point's configuration screens, from which you can make the change.

Here's an example from a LinkSys access point:

LinkSys Access Point encryption configuration

There's a dropdown to select the type of encryption to be used, and entry fields to specify the accompanying password.

As I said, your access point or router may be different, so check the documentation that came with the device.

And if you don't have access to or control the access point, you cannot change the encryption it uses.

What Encryption Do I Want?

WPA2 if the device supports it.

To give that a little more detail (and in order of preference):

  • WPA2 - currently the most secure. It should be available on almost all newer devices.

  • WPA - there are some exploits that have made it to the proof of concept stage, however, currently they are not practical for hackers to make anything useful of. Of course that could change, but today I would not hesitate to use WPA if WPA2 were not an option.

  • WEP - on the other hand, WEP has been exploited to the point where it's almost as good as no encryption at all. ONLY use this if you have some device that will communicate no other way, and then treat this entire wireless network as open. In fact, you might as well use no encryption to be explicit about the security state.

  • No Encryption - also known as "open WiFi". You may notice that my home has two wireless access points: one encrypted with WPA2, and one open for guests and casual users. These networks are isolated from each other. An open WiFi access point should be used with care, and only if you're prepared to have anyone in range connect to it.

So, wherever possible use WPA2 to keep your network safe and secure.

If you're using someone else's network then make sure you understand the type of security at play, and make sure that you're not inadvertently exposing your sensitive data to people you don't expect to.

Article C4356 - July 1, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Jonathan V.
July 1, 2010 6:41 PM

For the record, there's an even easier way in Windows 7. Instead of right-clicking the network's entry to get the properties, you can just mouse over and it'll show you the level of encryption (as well as some other details). Hope this helps.

Unfortunately that's not always the case apparently. For example in researching this article I expected exactly that on my Win 7 machine, and did not get it. (It lists my network adapters without details.)

Russ martinson
July 6, 2010 8:54 AM

I like to use the following in the cmd window;

netsh wlan show interfaces.

will tell you almost all you need to know about your wireless connection. Includes detail about your signal strength and speed.


Robin Clay
July 6, 2010 2:55 PM

Hi !

You say, re running XP:-
"As you can see, it shows not only the access point name but the type of encryption"...

Not on my computer, it doesn't....

So how do I find out ?

Pretty please ?

Michael Horowitz
July 6, 2010 7:14 PM

@robin: This is a standard feature of Windows XP. If your XP computer doesn't show the encryption level along with the other information about each wireless network it detects, perhaps its down-leveled. Are you running XP with Service Pack 3? It works the same in SP2 too, but there was a small change in SP3. Could you be running Service Pack 1?

July 13, 2010 2:02 PM

Re: 'The biggest misunderstanding is where to make this change. It's not on your computer.'

Granted..but getting TO the wireless access point might be a problem. I know of a local service provider that will NOT allow access to their provided router! To do something as simple as ESTABLISHING encryption on their routers' wireless function, you have to call THE PROVIDER to get it done.

Following the instructions included with the router will not work.

IF one happens to encounter a 'no access' situation on their access point, maybe their provider has blocked it. Before you start pulling your hair out trying to figure out howcome the information included with your device does not work, give your provider a call.

September 6, 2010 3:02 PM

Good article on WEP vs. WPA

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