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WEP Key Maker

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Current Version: 1.1

If you're looking into creating a wireless network for your Macintosh, here's a dirty little secret that will save you a great deal of money: Apple's AirPort base station isn't the only wireless access point (WAP) device that AirPort-card-equipped Macintoshes work with. There are many fine 802.11b WAPs available for half the cost of the AirPort base station, and your Mac will work just fine with them, right out of their boxes. You'll find, however, that these devices - by default - come with Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) disabled, meaning that data sent between your computer and WAP will be sent in the clear over the airwaves, offering little to no protection from intruders who know how to decipher these signals.

If you want to enable your wireless access point's 40 or 128 bit encryption, you'll probably find an area in its configuration screens that asks you to enter in a series of hexadecimal numbers called a "key." These WEP keys are used by the algorithm that your hardware employs to encrypt your wireless data. They are typically generated by a piece of software. WEP Key Maker is such a piece of software. Download it, enter in some text that tickles your fancy (called a "pass phrase"), and it will generate a 40 bit or 128 bit key you can enter into your WAP's configuration screen.

Once you do this and reboot your WAP, however, you'll note that the next time you try to access your wireless network from your Macintosh, you'll be prompted by the AirPort software to enter a password. Type a dollar sign ($) into the AirPort password field, and then type in (or paste, if you can) the key that WEP Key Maker generated for you, making sure to store this lengthy string of characters in your OS 9 or OS X "keychain" by clicking the corresponding checkbox. Click "OK," and you'll have rejoined your wireless network with encryption fully-enabled.

Apple's AirPort base station makes it unnecessary for end users to deal directly with WEP keys by using a proprietary algorithm to convert passwords to WEP keys on the fly. Fortunately, the "$" prefix trick allows you to use WEP keys instead of these special passwords directly with any AirPort card-equipped Mac, enabling you to hook into just about any standard third-party 802.11b wireless base. While you'll probably only need WEP Key Maker to generate a key for WAP routers that you own or control, remember the "$" trick if you happen to be visiting a company or building that requires encrypted access to its wireless network. Remember, however, that public networks that you are likely to find in hotels or public wireless WANs in large cities typically use no encryption whatsoever, and your AirPort card will detect these and allow you to use them without a password or WEP key of any kind.

WEP Key Maker is the only Macintosh-based WEP key generator that I am aware of, and it's an essential piece of any wireless Mac-head's arsenal of tools. It's not only wonderfully easy to use - it's absolutely free.

Version 1.1 adds/changes the following:

  • Improved hex key quality.
  • Hex key field is now "read only."
  • Pass phrase is now "required."
  • Key length is now restricted to a multiple of 4, less than or equal to 928, consistent with the constraints of the algorithm used.
  • Added a "Window" menu and othewise improved Aqua appearance.
  • Removed window's minimize button to avoid bugs in PowerPlant's event handling under OS X.

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Also See . . .

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Related Links

For an interesting and objective third-party view of Apple's networking technology - from MacTCP through Open Transport and beywond - Peter Sichel's Sustainable Softworks page is unparalleled.

Also Consider . . .

These are applications that are newer and of potential interest, but which I haven't yet selected for permanent inclusion. Have a look, and let me know if you think they deserve to be part of the permanent collection!