First, I should point out that WPS is not the same thing as WPA. These two different things are often confused because their abbreviations are so close. WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) is an encryption or security selection that includes a couple of newer encryption standards. WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) is not a security setting but is a way to set up security. You can use WPS to set the WPA encryption key easily.
Second, although many newer routers support WPS, they don’t often promote this feature so you might buy a router that has it without even knowing it.
Third, WPS is not as easy to use unless the router has a WPS button on it. This is because the easiest way to use WPS is to use the so-called “Push Button” method where you need only press the WPS button on the device you wish to add to your wireless network, and then press the WPS button on the router. If this is done within a couple of minutes, the router will securely send your encryption settings to the device and automatically add it to your network.
Personally, I think the WPS pushbutton method is great because it makes it so easy to add printers to a wireless network. You might be asking “if it is so great then why don’t router manufacturers advertise it more?” The reason is that it is only works when you have WPS both on the router and the device you are adding, and it is really best when all devices use WPS. This creates a classic “chicken and egg” problem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_or_the_egg). Router makers don’t promote WPS because it isn’t useful until devices support it, and network device makers don’t generally promote WPS because it isn’t useful until routers promote it so people know about it. So everyone is basically just waiting for each other to make the first step.
HP recently made a big first step in promoting WPS. 2009 Photosmart and Deskjet wireless printer models not only supports WPS, they uses it by default. What that means is that all you have to do to add one of these printers to your wireless network is to turn it on and press the WPS button on the router. That’s all there is to wireless setup! You may see a message on these printer boxes about “Easiest wireless setup” or “Easy One Button wireless setup”. These really are the easiest wireless printers (if you have a WPS router with a pushbutton).
So next time you are shopping for any wireless network device, or someone asks your advice, think about WPS as a key feature to look for. The sooner everyone starts using and asking for WPS, the sooner we can all finally eliminate the hassle of wireless setup, and make home networks more secure.
By the way, if you are worried or just wondering about the security of this approach, especially why WPS can actually make a network more secure, here are a few key points:
1) Before sending the encryption key, the router and device first go through a process to set up a private secure connection that no one else can eavesdrop on. So the router really does send the encryption key to the device in a secure way.
2) It is better to press the WPS button on the router last. There is a small risk that some other person in the same area will push the WPS button on their device about the same time you press the WPS button on your device (yes the odds of this happening are very small, but it is a possibility). By pressing the button on the device first, and then the router last, the router will see two different devices both wanting to join the network at the same time, and refuse to add either one. Then you just have to try WPS again, and if it was just an accident, then it will probably work the second time. However, if you press the button on the router first, and then someone else presses their WPS button before you press yours, the router could just see their device first, and then it will send them your security key.
3) WPS can also be used to initially configure the router, so if you just take your new WPS router out of the box, and push the button, it is immediately ready for you to use. You can then use WPS on all your WPS enabled computers, printers, and other devices to create your network without ever having to worry about remembering security settings. (Now isn’t that neat!)
However, you need to know that if your router has not been configured with any security, then pressing the WPS button the first time will set up security on it. If you didn’t know this, and used the router first without any security, then the first time you press the WPS button on the router to add a device on your network, you are going to reconfigure your network settings with that first button press!
4) Using WPS to configure the router automatically configures the router with a very strong encryption key and virtually eliminates the need to post this key on your refrigerator or wherever you need to put it so you have it when you need it. So WPS actually makes networks more secure than they are in most home settings.
WPS is an easy secure way to manage home wireless networks. Look for routers and network devices that advertise WPS, “Wi-Fi Protected Setup”, or the WPS logo: http://www.wi-fi.org/wifi-protected-setup/. Be sure to look for routers that have a WPS button, or a button marked with the WPS logo for the easiest way to add devices to your wireless network.