Home > Articles > Cisco Network Technology > General Networking > Protecting Your Network from the Wi-Fi Protected Setup Security Hole

Protecting Your Network from the Wi-Fi Protected Setup Security Hole

  • Article is provided courtesy of Cisco Press.
  • Date: Mar 12, 2012.

Article Description

Even if you’ve encrypted and secured your wireless network with Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA or WPA2), a security hole affecting most wireless routers may make it fairly easy for those with the right tools to hack your network and connect. This new vulnerability affects most wireless routers and allows others to crack your Wi-Fi security no matter how strong of a password you have. Eric Geier, author of Wi-Fi Hotspots: Setting Up Public Wireless Internet Access, shows how to prevent this and protect your network.

Even if you’ve encrypted and secured your wireless network with Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA or WPA2), a security hole affecting most wireless routers may make it fairly easy for those with the right tools to hack your network and connect. They could then steal the wireless Internet access, possibly connect to your computers, and snoop on your network traffic to perhaps capture your passwords and hijack your online accounts.

This security hole comes from the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) feature designed by the Wi-Fi Alliance to—ironically—make securing and connecting Wi-Fi devices easier and has been included on the majority of wireless routers made since 2007. It can automatically enable WPA/WPA2 security, the personal or pre-shared key (PSK) mode used in homes. If your router doesn’t support WPS or you use the enterprise (802.1X) mode of WPA/WPA2 security, then this vulnerability doesn’t apply to you and you don’t have to worry.

Wireless vendors have a few ways to implement WPS, but the PIN method is the only one required, and is the source of the security hole. The way the PIN information is exchanged between the router and clients makes it much easier to brute-force the PIN, repeatedly sending guesses to the router from a client using a tool like Reaver or WPScrack. After a few hours, these tools will likely reveal the target router’s WPS PIN and the WPA or WPA2 passphrase, both of which can be used to connect to the network.

Wireless vendors and/or the Wi-Fi Alliance may help patch this security hole by implementing additional security measures, such as limiting the amount and frequency of PIN guesses. They could possibly fix the issue in new models and in existing models by releasing firmware updates that you may even be able to use with your current router. If they don’t make any enhancements, the only way to patch the security hole is to turn WPS off, but even then some routers still might be vulnerable as they may still response to PIN queries.

To see if your router supports WPS—whether or not you should be worried about this security hole—first check if there’s an 8-digit PIN number printed on the bottom of your router. Also see if there are any WPS logos on it or on the box it came in. But even if you don’t see any evidence, you should still double-check your router’s settings for any mention of WPS.

To check or change your router’s settings, log on to the web-based interface by typing the router’s IP address into a web browser on a computer that’s connected to your network. If you don’t remember the password to log on, try the default, which can be found in the router’s documentation or online. Once logged on, look for WPS settings, perhaps in the wireless or advanced settings.

If you find you have WPS, you can usually disable via the router settings. But again, it may not actually stop people from taking advantage of the security hole.

Before giving up on your router, check the wireless vendor’s website and look for any firmware updates for your particular router that were released in January 2012 or after. Then look at the release notes for any mention of a WPS fix or update. If you see one, then you can simply download the firmware file and upload it to your router via the settings interface in your web browser. Otherwise, you might consider checking to see if your router is supported by after-market firmware, like DD-WRT or Tomato, which don’t support or include WPS.

As a last resort for full peace of mind, if your router doesn’t have firmware updates and can’t go the after-market route, you may consider buying a different router model that doesn’t come with WPS.

If you were using WPS to secure and connect your Wi-Fi devices and have disabled it (or are using a new firmware or router that doesn’t support it), you’ll now need to discover how to live without it—which really isn’t difficult. Simply log on to your router’s settings by typing its IP address into a web browser. Find the wireless settings and look for the WPA or WPA2 passphrase, or enable and create a passphrase if not done yet. The passphrase is what you type into Wi-Fi computers and devices when trying to connect. If you see WEP is enabled, change to WPA2 because it’s the most secure option to date.

If the router is for business use, consider using the Enterprise (802.1X) mode of WPA2 instead of the personal or PSK mode. When using the enterprise mode, the WPS vulnerability doesn’t apply even if you have WPS on your router. This is because WPS only works with the personal mode, and if you don’t have it enabled there isn’t anything to worry about.

The Enterprise mode, however, is much more complex to set up. It uses 802.1X authentication, which requires a RADIUS server. If you have a domain network, you can use the Internet Authenticate Service (IAS) feature of Windows Server 2000 or 2003 or the Network Policy Server (NPS) feature of Windows Server 2008 or later. If you don’t have a Windows Server, consider the free open source FreeRADIUS server. But if you don’t want to run your own server, consider APs with built-in RADIUS servers or cloud services that can host the server for you.

Cisco Press Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Cisco Press and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Cisco Press products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@ciscopress.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Cisco Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.ciscopress.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020